When I started my truancy program to keep state wards in school, my job was to provide wake-up calls for some of the most belligerent kids in the system. Oftentimes, I went to their homes with squirt gun in hand to wake them up.
“Oh my God!”some might say. “He actually shot kids with a squirt gun to get them to go to school?” And I would say, “Yes, I did. Got any better ideas on how to wake the living dead?” Squirting them with water caused a lot less stress than shaking the crap out of them, in which case most kids came out of bed like rabid wild cats.
It was a full-time job making sure my kids were transported to school, to court, to drug treatment, and to anger management. If they were ready for me in the mornings, I would reward them with Micky D’s. If not, they usually woke up drenched from my Super Soaker, muttering curses at me.
My caseworkers were cool enough to realize we needed to take a different approach with most of these kids, so they agreed with my plan to pay them $1 per day to go to school. I carried a pager and I frequently received calls from assistant principals who informed me if a kid had skipped. My job was then to track them down and take them back. When I ended up getting lucky, and found a kid to transport back to school, they always asked, “How did you find me?” And I would grin and say, “Your mom had a tracking band sewn into your underwear, so I just followed the blip on my screen.”
One day I received a call from my friend, Roy Nifousi, juvenile probation officer, about Steve, who had not been to school for 3 months. Roy informed me that if I didn’t get him to school as ordered by the court, he was going to file neglect charges against DSS. My caseworker in charge of Steve told me then to do anything humanly possible to get him to school. I was forewarned by Roy that Steve with the big green Mohawk and the big green stud in his nose, had wailed on his own mom in the past when wakened from a sound sleep, so I devised a way in which to safely wake him up. So out came the squirt gun for the first time.
I scored a direct hit directly up his left nostril. Steve sprang out of bed, cussing and shouting, “Jesus Christ!” I simply stood there, smirking as I said, “No, it’s just I, Tom Frye!”
Steve came at me then, fists flailing. I crossed my two fingers as one would ward off a vampire and I said, “Back off!” Steve snorted, and that green stud in his nose came flying at me with incredible force. It struck the wall above my head with a thacking! sound, and I am sure that stud would have impaled me had it struck me. Needless to say, I got Steve to go to school, and Roy backed off with his threat, and my caseworker was relieved.
My next client wasn’t so willing. I had been forewarned by the caseworker in charge that Tim had been accused of killing the neighbor’s cat. So I had no great expectations when I entered his bedroom. But I had no idea he would pull a knife on me.
I reacted, having been trained by martial arts instructors at the Attention Center, and by God, that one move where a defender uses both hands to disarm a knife-wielding attacker actually worked! I was as surprised as Tim when I did my kung fu move, and the knife went flying out of his grasp. I then made him go to school.
Next morning, Tim pulled a BB gun on me, and so once again, I used my hands, applying pressure on his wrist that sent the gun flying out of his grasp. I ended up restraining him, with a wrist behind his back, the heel of my palm beneath his neck, and Tim with nowhere else to go but to . . . school.
The third morning I went to wake Tim up, his Grandma came to the door and said, “Timmy is not here this morning. He went to school, because he didn’t ever want to see you again!”
I laughed all the way to school, and five minutes later when I saw him in the hallway I waved at him. Tim took one disgusted look at me and hightailed it in the other direction. But he did stay in school and managed to get there every morning without my assistance. So mission accomplished.
One morning I went to Tyson’s house and knocked on the door. I heard a lock being put in place behind the door. Then a smirking face of a messy-haired kid appeared in the door’s window. Tyson gave me an evil grin and flipped me off, sending, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” echoing through the door.
The next morning I went back there and after knocking on the front door, I heard the back door slam shut. By the time I reached the backyard, Tyson was running toward the alley, grinning back at me, flipping me off, and sending, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” echoing down the alley behind him.
So I made up a contract for Tyson’s mom to give me a house key in order to get a jump-start on my most unruly case. I simply went early enough to catch him in bed, quietly opened the front door, took aim with my squirt gun from the hallway, and sent a spray of cold water into his face. Tyson sat up in bed, and I saluted him with my middle finger, and said, “Ha! Ha! Ha!”
The strangest morning of all was when I picked up five kids from a group home to transport them to Whitehall school in my Mazda mini-van. We had just pulled up to a red light, when I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw this lady writing down what was obviously my licence number, for Joe was mooning her from his place in the backseat! I pulled away from the light, and hit a two-lane on Vine, and as some burly guy in a Mustang shot past us in the other lane, Jason flicked a penny out the window. It traveled through the guy’s open window, beneath him and his girl friend’s nose, and right out of the other side of the car! He followed us all the way to school. And when I parked to let the kids out, his girlfriend struggled to hold him back from coming over to my van. It was quite a struggle too, and all the while Jason was fidgeting in his seat, saying, “Go, Tom! Just go! Get us out of here!”
Jason about had a heart attack, but eventually the enraged boyfriend finally drove away without further incident. Jason sighed and looked at me, saying, “You were just gonna let him beat me up, weren’t you?”
I grinned and said, “No, but maybe you can now see there is always a consequence to your actions, dip-wad.”
As a reward to five of my kids who actually stayed in school for a 90 day period, and earned $90 on the $1 per day plan, I took them out to buy skateboards. I not only had a four-foot half pipe in my backyard, but I took them out to the skate park two nights per week, and once made a trip to Mahoney Park on I-80.
On this particular trip, after the kids skated, I bought them all a pop and we went over to the observation tower, which they with pop in hand, proceeded to climb. I was talking with some friendly guy I had met down below when I heard a garbled curse word from beneath the 9-story tower. I then saw some older man getting splattered with pop raining down from high above him. Coke on his pure white shirt splotched it brown in several places before I could call the hounds off. When I passed him to climb up after the boys, he grabbed me none-too-gently by the arm, and snarled, “Where are these children from? Boy’s Town?”
I removed my arm from his grasp and growled back, “No, sir! They are children from hell!”
Children from hell? Lost angels? Misfit kids? Or just misguided, self-destructive kid missiles? I am still not sure how to label most of them. I just know those were some of the best days of my life, and some of those kids still stay in touch, attend my plays, and have actually become productive members of our society. Some call me just to chat, or Facebook me just to say, “Hey.”
I can only wonder how many kids there are now days who have the same problem. Maybe someone should pay them $1 a day to go to school, or maybe someone should care enough to make sure they even get there.
Anyone care to fill my shoes?