Tag: school

A Letter To M

Dear M,

I hope this letter finds you well. I was having a bit of trouble trying to find the right words to say as I wrote it. It’s not every day you try to put into words just how much an old high school teacher means to you. Yeah, I know, it’s been more than thirty-five years since I was a student walking those hallowed halls but believe it or not, you’re still the first person who comes to mind whenever I think about my high school experience.

Back then, you had a saying you liked to use whenever someone was having a problem. Whether it was something as simple as a homework assignment, peer pressure, or even trouble at home, whenever someone was having an issue, you’d pull that person aside and say, “Talk to me.”  Those three words became your mantra, and I guess in a way that’s what I’m doing now, talking to you.

I never told you this before, but you played a huge role during the most fragile and formative years of my young life. Like so many other teenagers trying to find their place in the world, I didn’t fit in well in high school, but your choir class was the one place I could go where I felt like I completely belonged. You taught me how to sing and how to release the song from inside my soul. Most of all, you made me feel valued.

I remember the awkward feeling I had walking into your music room every morning and seeing you surrounded by a gaggle of students. All of them eagerly asking you questions about last night’s music theory assignment or trying to get your opinion on a selected piece of music they chose for their district chorus audition. You seemed like a celebrity and the class was your fanbase. Sometimes I had questions of my own to ask but was too shy to do so. It wouldn’t be until after class had ended that I’d pull you side and tell you about my interest in majoring in music at the same state college as you.

I hadn’t seen you since the night of my graduation in 1987. If I’m being honest, I also hadn’t given you much thought at all, that is until almost two decades later when someone told me about the adult choir you were directing once a week in a chapel on the far side of town. This was shortly after you’d retired from teaching, and long after I’d given up on my own dream of becoming a professional musician. 

Call it nostalgia but I had an urge, a tickle in my stomach of wanting to be part of something special. By then, I’d already had a family of my own and was long established in a busy career in information technology. Something like the prospect of singing in a choir with you seemed too good to be true, but regardless of any scheduling concerns, I needed to make time, if only for myself.

I still remember the familiar feeling of awkwardness when I walked into church that night for that first rehearsal. As usual, you were already in conversation with a few people and didn’t see me approaching. I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. Part of me wanted to turn and run, not because I wasn’t sure of what to say, but because I’d already started second guessing myself again. It had been years since I’d sung in a choir. Would I even know what to do?

I also wondered if you’d even remember me. I was one of thousands of students you had taught over your thirty-three-year teaching career. It had been decades and the skinny, introverted, long-haired student who once sat before you in the corner of the room was now a full-blown middle-aged man. Less hair on his head and, sadly, a bit thicker in the middle. Somehow, I was able to muster up the courage and nervously tapped my hand on your shoulder. 

“Hello, M” I said, meekly. “Do you remember me?”

I will never forget the look of joy on your face when you turned around and saw me standing there. It was as if the Prodigal Son, who had been through the confusion of life and adult responsibility, had suddenly found his way back home. Here I was, once again the fragile student now stuck in an adult body, and there you were, still carrying the age and wisdom of years just like me, but with the same wit and energy I loved while sitting in your music theory classes. 

“Oh my gosh!” you exclaimed as you shook my hand, firmly. “It’s been a long time.”

You told me to call you “Ed” that night because your name was Ed Milisits and we were now both adults. I did but truthfully didn’t want to. That bond of teacher-student was still very strong. For me, and I think for most everyone who ever had the pleasure of being one of your students, you were known as a single letter of the alphabet: 


I spent the next ten years spending Tuesday nights in the choir under your direction. One year, I mustered up the courage to suggest a piece of music to do that we performed my senior year of high school. You were excited about the possibility but let me know that it was a bit of a long-shot because approval was needed by the music committee. It took a few more years but one morning, ironically thirty years after last performing the piece in high school, I received an email from you: 

“Thought you’d be interested to know that ‘Os Justi’ is on the Winter program list! We WIN!”

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and the world shut down, the choir went on hiatus. It was also a time when I was going through a lot of personal issues and you were facing your own challenges as well. Ones that made mine look small in comparison. Although I did email quite a few times to see how you were, I always respected your need for privacy. 

It’s hard to believe that today makes a full a year that you’ve been gone. Sometimes I’ll see a post pop up in my Facebook memories and read your comments about it. That will, inevitably, get me to thinking about you and our conversations in the high school choir room or the adult choir rehearsal hall. It puts a smile on my face but I wish there was a chance to have one more conversation with you. Until then, I suppose this one-sided letter will have to do. Someday, God-willing, I’ll have the honor of sitting in your choir again.

M, just know that you are missed dearly, not just by me but by the generations of people who had the pleasure of sitting in one of your classrooms or choirs. You taught us to believe in ourselves, to laugh and, most importantly, to raise our voices in song. 

Rest Easy.


James Wood (Class of 1987)

Top Five Things of 2022

It’s sometimes hard to believe that we’re at the end of another year, let alone that we’re in the third decade of the 21st century. I still remember when I got my very first laminated school identification card back in September of 1981. On the back of it was a sticker that listed the year of what would be my high school graduation – 1987.

I remember staring at that card for a long time thinking about 1987 and, even though it was only six years, how far away it seemed to be. For some perspective – this past year, 2022, I attended my 35th high school reunion.

A lot has happened over the course of these last twelve months. I’d like to spend these next few minutes giving you a list of my top five events of 2022.

#5 – The Loss of Favorite Teachers. Hey, I never said this list was going to only contain good things. Not only did 2022 mark the 25th anniversary of the death of my father, it was also the year I said goodbye to two of my favorite teachers. First was my favorite teacher in all of my schooling; my high school music theory and choir teacher, Edward Milisits, who died on January 8th. I could easily write an entire book on how Mr. M and his classes affected my life. His influence was so popular that after his retirement from 30+ years of teaching, generations of former students (now adults) signed up to sing in his choir.

Then there’s my third grade teacher, Mrs. Tanzella, who passed away in November. Although I don’t have much recollection of her after I left the halls of Porter Elementary, I’ll never forget the day my brother and I rode on a float the Cub Scouts had made during our town’s annual Halloween parade. I had told Mrs. Tanzella how nervous and scared I was about riding and waving to people. As the route began and we made our way through town, I heard a woman’s voice calling my name. I looked and saw that it was Mrs. Tanzella, briskly walking behind the float; waving to me with a huge smile on her face. Seeing her put me at ease.

These days I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but 45 years later, I can still remember her doing that for me.

#4 – This one actually dates back to one year ago today, December 31st, 2021. The day I adopted Merlot, or Merle as he is known in my home. He had been part of a hoarding situation and I gave him a second chance at life. It took him nearly five days into 2022 to come out from under the bed. Today, he is my buddy.

#3Painting Holiday Watercolor Cards. As most of you know, I regularly watercolor. Most of them are 9×12 in size. For Christmas this year I was asked to paint a few 5×7 postcards to use as Christmas cards. I started out thinking I would only do a half dozen or so. Instead, I wound up doing 60 of them. I’m happy to say that, like Merle, all of the cards now have happy homes. Take a peek at them below:

#2 – Interviewing Barry Manilow. This one is surreal and sad because when I was growing up, my mother would play Barry Manilow records non-stop. There was hardly a day when I would come home from school and not hear “Mandy,” “Weekend in New England,” or “Copacabana” playing on the stereo. My mom loved Barry Manilow. And even though we’d always tell her that we believed he was gay (turns out, he was) she claimed he wasn’t and would have left my dad to be with him. In September of this year, I actually got to interview him. I placed a photograph of my mom next to me and looked at it as I spoke to Barry. I even told him the story about how much his music meant to my mom. I was sad that she wasn’t there to experience that moment with me. She would have lost her mind.

#1 Graduating from College – It was a journey that actually began after graduating high school. It was August of 1987 when I entered college thinking I’d become a music teacher. The road would lead me to Penn State, Northampton Community College and West Chester University. All fizzled out and in 1990, I reluctantly entered the work force. When Covid struck in 2020 and we couldn’t go anywhere, I decided to gather all of my transcripts and see what, if anything, I could get. I was told that if I passed five courses I would receive an Associates Degree in General Studies. The quest began, and over the next year and a half I took Environmental Science, English II, Geology, Developmental Psychology and Nature of Mathematics, In May of 2022 I passed my last final and became an honors college graduate almost 35 years to the day after graduating high school. Framing the degree and putting it on my wall was the biggest accomplishment of all for me.

So, another year is about to pass. Along the way there have been a few ups & downs. Some days to remember, and some days to forget. But there’s a New Year ahead and new dreams to collect. So, I wish you one that’s full of health, contentment and most of all….love. Here’s to 2023.

Happy New Year.

Back To School

Me, June 11, 1987

Thirty years ago I had an epiphany. It was March of 1990 and I was in the middle of my second semester at West Chester University. My goal at the time was to major in education and, eventually, go on to teach young, impressionable minds about the only subjects I truly cared about: guitar and music.

Before we go any further, allow me to give you a little back story:

I had already graduated high school three years prior to this revelation but things didn’t turn out the way that I planned. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved music, but back then all I wanted to do was be the next Eddie Van-Halen. I knew that was something that wasn’t going to hapen overnight, so I decided to enroll at Penn State University in the Fall of 1987 as a music major.

I had no money set aside for school and my parents, who’d recently divorced, had no means of helping to fund my education either. So I applied for grants and took out loans. Quite a few loans if you really want to know. I was told at the time I wouldn’t have to worry about paying them back, at least not until six months after I’d finished school. It was almost too good to be true. I’d be rich and famous by then.

Most of my tuition for that first semester was covered by loans, and the people at the bank were kind enough to give me plenty of extra money as well. Checks made out to James Wood rolled into the bursar’s office faster than cars at a Chik-fil-A drive-thru, and every day I’d sneak down to the office in between classes to see if another one had arrived. Ones that were supposed to be set aside for schooling but instead I used to buy important things, like guitars and amps and treating my friends to coffee and cheese french fries at the local Perkins. I went to school three times a week, didn’t have to work and the money continued to roll in. I was living the life, or so I thought. Don’t believe me? Here’s an entry from a journal I kept back in 1987:

Journal Entry: Sept 2, 1987 while sitting in Psychology class.

By November, I was getting pretty tired of going to school. I just wanted to rock, and there was no one who could tell me otherwise or point me in the right direction. I dropped out of Penn State and spent most of 1988 working odd jobs while trying and failing, often miserably, at starting a band.

One day I received a letter in the mail informing me that, since I was no longer enrolled in college, the funds from my student loans would have to be repaid. The bill had come due. Not just for all the classes I dropped, but for all those guitars, amps and five-star meals I’d consumed. I needed a way out and fast.

I decided to attend the local community college with an emphasis on music education and an eventual transfer to West Chester University. This worked out well for me in two ways: First, it put the money I already owed on the back burner again. Second, and even more importantly, it allowed me to continue to take out more loans for tuition while pocketing the rest. By August of 1999 and my first semester at West Chester, I was already looking at some serious debt, and I was not even twenty-years-old.

“This is going to be worth it,” I assured myself.

Which leads me back to the ephipany of 1990 and to when I’d once again pretty much given up on college. Sure, I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t paying attention in class and was driving home almost every weekend. One day two of my roomates who, unlike me, had just finished studying, asked if I wanted to join them for a night out. When I reached into my pocket to see what funds were available, I fished out a single dollar bill and thirty-seven cents worth of loose change. It was all the money I had to my name. I reluctanly told them I’d have to pass.

That’s when I had the epiphany. Even though I’d given it the old college try, school just wasn’t going to be for me. I had to face the inevitable and do the one thing I hated most in life….. find and keep a job.

I decided to drop out of West Chester. Well, let me rephrase that, I didn’t actually drop out of school. I abandonded it. Yep, I packed my things, drove home and never went back. Eventually received the report card stating I had received all “F’s,” save for an English II course where the instructor was kind enough to put down a WP (withdrawl passing) for me. I would wind up spending the next ten years slowly making payments on my loan while working as a garbage man and pharmacy technician. I did try going back to community college in the mid-nineties and, although grateful my loan payments were again put on hiatus, once again never finished more than just a few courses.

Around the turn of the century (still blows my mind to say that) I decided to change careers and enrolled at the now defunct Allentown Business School where I received a quick diploma in Information Technology and have spent the better part of the last twenty years resetting passwords. Yes, I do a LOT more than that but don’t want to bore you with tech stuff. It took more than a dozen years but I even managed to pay back every penny I owed in student loans.

Journal Entry: September 1987

Recently, I had another epiphany. My daughter, now a high school graduate herself, enrolled at the same community college I attended. As I looked over her schedule it got me thinking about all the classes I’d taken over the years and how much I’d left on the table. All the money I spent on education, guitars and meals that went absolutely nowhere. Having not thought about such things for the longest time, I decided to find out what classes I had.

I started by logging onto the community college’s website and viewed my transcript. I was suprised to find that I had accumulated 51 credits in subjects ranging in everything from psychology and music to French and philosophy. This led me to check West Chester’s website where I discovered more than a dozen more I’d earned.


With newfound curiosity I decided to reach out to an advisor at the community college to see what this hodgepodge of classes might get me in terms of a degree… any degree… and how fast it could get me there. After reviewing everything I’d given her, the woman I spoke with told me that if I took an environmental science course over the winter and four other courses in Spring (English II, Developmental Psychology, Environmental Sustainability and Nature of Mathematics) I would earn an Associate in Arts Degree in General Studies and graduate in May of 2021. What’s more, all of the required courses could be taken completely online at my convenience, so it wouldn’t interfere with my current job.

So, guess what I’m doing after more than thirty years? …. I’m going back to school. It is an idea as frightening as it is thrilling.

What do I intend to do with this degree? I’m so glad you asked. Because that was the same thing the advisor wanted to know when I told her I wanted one as quickly as possible.

Initially, she asked me what prompted a 51-year-old man to consider a career change, noting that my answer would be crucial in determining which courses I should enroll in.

“If your goal is to move on to a four-year college and become a teacher,” she said, “you’ll definitely want to make sure you cover your education requirements.”

“I have no intention of becoming a teacher or even changing careers,” I told her. “I enjoy what I do.”

“Then why would you want to get a degree at this stage of your life?” she asked, curiously.

I thought about high school and the three colleges I attended. The classes I took, the guitars I bought, the meals I ate and the loans that were now long paid off. I was grateful to finally be in a position where I wouldn’t have to worry about taking out any more of them. Then I smiled.

“I want it for me,” I said.

Back To School

I have to admit, back in “the day” I kind of looked forward to the first day of school. Sure, it was the end of summer, but it was also the time for a fresh start and new beginnings. A chance to see many of the people I hadn’t seen in a long, long time (hey, two months is a lifetime to a kid).

But this coming school year is extra special. For this year marks the first year that I was officially out of K-12 program and began “college life”. Looking back on it now and thinking about the feelings I had at that point in my life is surreal to say the least.

I’m sure some of my fellow classmates will probably tell you that at this point they already had their post high school lives planned out to the finest detail. Everything from which college they were going to attend to what fraternity or sorority they would pledge.

But me? Well, I hadn’t even had given a thought about it. I was more concerned about when my grandmother was going to make her famous sausage casserole for dinner again.

Yes sir, frequent readers of this blog are already well aware of my procrastination and laziness post high-school. In fact, I didn’t take my SAT tests until the very last-minute, and even then just waddled my way through them. I sure as hell wasn’t going to stress myself about studying. I think that the only thing that I was even the slightest bit concerned about was making sure that I registered with Selective Service before I turned eighteen (does anyone else remember that)? Somehow though, I wound up getting accepted into Penn State.

Looking back now, I really lament not taking it more seriously. I spent the first two months at Penn State Allentown and quickly decided to drop out to become a working musician. The extra money I received from Pell Grants and student loans I used for personal things and not for tuition or books. Heck, I figured I had six months from the time I left school to start paying it back, and by then I’d be RICH; or so I thought.

Over the next several years, I was in an out of bands (and becoming a transient college student) before finally coming to the realization that I had made a mistake and needed to enter the work force. Having now started to find “my place” (and with a steady paycheck), I was eventually able to obtain a post high school degree thirteen years after I had graduated and, in 2005 FINALLY paid off the last of my student loans. Better late than never.

Which leads me to this: next week my little girl will start seventh grade and once again I am left to ask the question, “Where does the time go?”. I know it won’t be long before she’ll be faced with the same uncertainty and stress about what lies ahead for the next phase of her life that most high school graduates face. The feeling of needing to find her place.

I think one day I’ll have to sit her down and tell her my story and why its important for her to forge her own path and take her education seriously. Maybe we’ll discuss it at dinner one night over Nan’s sausage casserole. I think I have the recipe for it somewhere…

School Daze

The last time I roamed the halls at the current Easton Area Middle School it was still called Shawnee Intermediate School. Although additions were made structurally and the grade levels and names may have changed the building itself is still pretty much the way I remember it to be from when I was a student in the early 1980’s.

Today was a special chance for me to spend the entire day with my daughter at her school and see what a typical day for her is like. Suffice to say, it had an impact on me.

First off let just say that there are several things that I’ll always remember from my time spent at Shawnee:

1. The Planetarium. The absolute coolest place in the school. The only time where if a visit to the planetarium was included as part of an assembly kids got excited.  Sadly, today it’s just a normal room now.

2. Shawnee was the place where I first heard of the band Duran Duran.

3. Reading the book 1984 by George Orwell in Mr. Pfister’s English class in the year, yep you guessed it, 1984.

4. Going to Mr. Heath’s Earth Science class where every morning began with him literally giving us the weather forecast. Mr. Heath would have a map of the US taped on the board complete with approaching cold/warm fronts and “H” and “L” letters representing the respective pressure systems.

5. Dale Wilson carrying around a briefcase and self-publishing his own newspaper. Why this one sticks out is a mystery to me.

Regardless, I thought of all of these things as my daughter and I walked through the doors this morning. Although I felt safe and secure, seeing the levels of security on campus reminded me that about the only thing still relevant in these hallowed halls was that big brother was now watching more than ever.

After spending the morning having breakfast we made our way to her homeroom. Once there I was quickly introduced to one of her classmates named Eric. Upon meeting me he immediately asked Jillian, “Does he know about David?”. “SHUT UP!” Jillian replied as Eric just chuckled. Later I would ask her what that was all about and Jillian told me that Eric thinks she likes David, another student in her class (one which she is quick to say she doesn’t)… Ah, young love.

It wasn’t long before the class clown/troublemaker made his presence known. Chad (name changed to protect the innocent), a ten year old boy who looked more like a linebacker was literally dancing around making “beat-box” sounds when the teacher’s back was turned. I think the level of commotion going on and students asking questions made her oblivious to his actions. Other kids were cracking up at his antics and as soon as the teacher turned back around he immediately would stop. Then sure enough, as soon as the teacher went back to work in a small group he’d act up again.

I had to laugh when I thought what the odds would be if I came back five years from now and Chad was still in the same class beat boxing?

BRRRING….School bell rang and it’s off to music class. My favorite. Usually there would be two periods of math but since she was signed up for band  I got to sit with Jillian in a small group for clarinet lesson.

When the bell rang again we made our way to Math class. As we arrived the teacher, who was working out a problem on the board asked “Were you at music?”. When Jillian responded in the affirmative the teacher replied, “Oh, too bad. You missed some really great problems here”. It was all I could do to keep from saying: “Uhm, yeah…right…SURE she did!”..

Before I knew it lunch had arrived. We scurried our way into the lunch line. A smile appeared on my face when I discovered the tater tots were exactly as I remembered. Memories of the second period lunch at the high school flooded my senses.

About the only thing I lamented about lunch was that there were no green beans. Oh how I missed stabbing the green veggies with my straw. Trying to see how high I could fill the plastic straw before squeezing it’s contents back out on to the cardboard tray.

As we ate I asked Jillian what was next. “Science Class”, she replied. “But our normal teacher is not here today. We have a substitute”.

Substitute. That word triggered the memory of Mr. Stone, the universal substitute teacher in school. Mr. Stone worked as a substitute in pretty much every subject and to this day I’m not even sure what he was experienced to teach. When he was in for a sick teacher it was like study hall because nothing was about the only thing accomplished.

After Science, we made our way back to homeroom and then the funniest thing ever happened.  The teacher wanted to take attendance again and she asked students to please acknowledge with a “Here” when their name was called. Now. most well behaved students would simply give the “here” as their name was called, although some thought to give more cool responses like “Yo” or “Hi There”. But when the teacher called out Chad’s name, he decided to answer with the “beat box”. The teacher asked him to answer properly, but the damage to me was already done.

I laughed…and I laughed…and I laughed. For some reason, him doing the beat box at that particular moment in time hit my funny bone. I was covering my face looking down at the desk with tears started coming from my eyes. I don’t know what it was that was so damn funny when he did that, but I almost had to leave the room. All the kids, including my own Jillian sat there laughing at me laughing. I don’t know how I was able to pull it together, but class continued.

The day ended with of all things an assembly. We entered the auditorium to watch The Bach Choir of Bethlehem perform a few selections. Maybe its because I’m in a choir myself or perhaps because I’m well beyond the middle school years but in either case I found them to be very entertaining.

As we walked out of school and headed home I had a new found appreciation for my daughter. Seeing her interact with others, openly raising her hand to ask questions and actively participate in school is quite the opposite of the way I was. I thought about all the memories she would now be making in these halls over the next four years.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

WBSSinstigator (noun) – someone who deliberately foments trouble

It was a warm day in June when I was finishing up mowing the lawn. A chore I seem to have been relegated to do every week. Even though this day also happened to coincide with Father’s Day, it made no matter. As a father, it is my sworn duty to uphold the length of the lawn. And I would not fail in my duty.

The neighborhood was alive with the sound of picnics and reverie. Boys and girls giving their fathers home made art work proclaiming their love. Families gathering together to pay honor and celebrate Dad with steak, rib and beer. If you have children, it is indeed a good time to be one of those people with the Y chromosome.

As John Deere and I made our final pass on my property, I noticed a car pulling up outside the neighbor’s house across the street. A tan, late-model Cadillac CTS with tinted windows came to a stop and out he stepped: a tall, well-respected African-American man. I recognized his face immediately and guessed by now he must be in his mid to late 60’s. Still looked very much the same as I remember though, no worse for wear. The only difference being he was a little more gray than normal but age will have a tendency to do that do you. But Bill Houston took age in style. Much like everything else from what I remember about him.

Bill had come to visit his daughter, whose been living across the street from me since I moved into my house eight years ago. I’ve seen him there on occasion, but as usual, this time seeing Bill (or Mr. Houston as I know him) emerge from the car had me thinking about the time our paths crossed thirty years ago. Back when I was a bad ass.

It was ninth grade at Shawnee Intermediate School. I was sitting in the cafeteria breaking bread with my homies when HE sat down next to me. That “he” was Jeff, or the Jersey Bomber as he was known in circles around school. How he got that nickname I have no idea. But he was a hard-nosed kid with a permanent chip on his shoulder that hung out with the dudes that were regulars in detention. Most of the time, the Jersey Bomber would joining them there for a variety of incidents he was involved with.

I think he must have flunked ninth grade a hundred times and I even heard rumors that he even smoked cigarettes. I’m sure he could’ve kicked my ass at will but for some reason I wasn’t afraid that day.

As I gulped down the last of my quarter pint of milk the opportunity began to present itself. I noticed another malcontent named Tom emerging from the lunch line carrying a tray with a slice of rectangular pizza and tossed salad. Tom was a bit of a geek who always seemed to be getting into fights with other kids for no apparent reason. He didn’t even care if he would win or lose. I think he just liked to fight for the sheer enjoyment of it and didn’t care what the consequences might be.

I began to laugh to myself when I thought of some of the battles he waged over the course of the school year. Silly “fights” that consisted of noogies, wedgies, hair pulling and the literal kicking of asses. Suddenly, the little devil on my shoulder popped up and whispered into my ear. What happened next became a blur.

I quietly leaned over and told the Bomber that Tom had been talking about his Mom and saying all kinds of bad things. I’ve never seen a kid get up as quick as Bomber did. It takes a strong man to just leave a slice of school pizza sitting on the tray. School pizza is the pen-ultimate of meals. I would have at least finished it first.

But the next thing I know Bomber and Tom are doing battle in the middle of the cafeteria. Tossed salad is covering the floor and the two are slipping and sliding on the lettuce while the other kids cheer them on.

Within seconds the lunch duty teachers had separated the boys and dragged them out to parts unknown. Well, by unknown, I mean Principal Houston’s office. That’s where all malcontents went to face the judge and jury and be punished for their actions. I thought nothing more of the battle that had just been waged. I disposed of my garbage and headed back to class an extra slice of pizza fuller than usual.

While sitting in English class a short while later the teacher got word that my attendance was required at the ninth grade office. “Me?”, I thought. “Surely they must be honoring me with a Coolness Award or something. Maybe Mom and Dad were picking me up to go get the Atari 2600 I was asking for”. But when I walked into Mr. Houston’s office my dreams of playing Combat and Missile Command were gone as I saw Tom and The Bomber sitting there.


In a nutshell, Mr. Houston put the bad boys in detention. Then he told me for instigating the fight, I would also be receiving three days detention after school. I was in shock as I left the office. What the heck does “instigating” mean anyway? Why should I get detention for something I’m not even sure I am guilty of?

When the first day of detention came I decided I wasn’t going to go. I would fight this. Take it to the Supreme Court if I have to. I am not guilty of this charge. I couldn’t wait to confront Mr. Houston again and tell him so. Heck, he might even forget about it and I’d be off the hook. But sure enough, the very next afternoon he called me in to his office again. This time it was one on one. Mano-a-mano.

Mr. Houston asked me why I didn’t go to detention and that my punishment for not showing up was now five days detention. I told him that there was no way I was going to go. He then informed me that if I did not show up, I would be suspended for three days.

Suspended??? The thought of me being in the same category as the Jersey Bomber was most definitely NOT appealing. I saw myself standing on the street corner while the other kids were in school. Maybe even attempting to light up a cigarette of my own and then choking on it. Yeah, I’d be REAL cool.

I pleaded with Mr. Houston and asked him why he would do this to me. “I’m innocent of this thing called instigating” I told him. That’s when he handed me a dictionary and showed me the definition of instigator and asked me “Was this you?”

I was silent. He had me, guilty as charged. I HAD started the fight and needed to accept my punishment. James Wood in detention for the very first time. Who’d have thunk it?

Those five 90-minute detention periods after school were some of the longest of my life. As a kid, coming home from school on the bus at 5:30 p.m. is not something you look forward to. But I accepted it. I paid the price.

As reality came back, I noticed I was still day dreaming about school and forgot to power off the lawn mower.  Mr. Houston, now long retired from doling out advice and detention, was already inside celebrating Father’s Day with his daughter.  I wanted to go over there and knock on the door but thought it might be kind of strange to thank a man thirty years later for the life lesson and teaching me the meaning of a new word.

One that will always stick with me.