I’ve met some cantankerous folks in my time, but when I met Mrs. B, the librarian at the middle school I once worked at, I knew what the word curmudgeon truly meant. As a Gifted Mentor , I constantly asked the principal, Ross Dirks, for a private room with a computer to work with my students on writing projects. Ross consistently put me off, and shuffled me off to the library where we had all kinds of distractions. Little did I know, the prank I was compelled to pull, would lead to me and my students getting our own room complete with a computer.
As it was, Joey Mason, a mouthy little kid suspended for a number of reasons from several classes, was my one kid I volunteered with each day in the library. My other students were on the clock so to speak, but Ross had asked me to work for an hour each day with Joey, the mouth of the south.
One day before I arrived to work with him, Mrs. B spotted Joey seated in the library waiting for me, so she asserted her authority by demanding, “Joey Mason? Where is your pass?”
Joey smugly responded, “Tom Frye is my pass!”
At which point Mrs. B came unglued and proceeded to send him to the office. When I walked in the door she was fuming and demanding an apology.
It took me 30 minutes to coax Joey to tell her he was sorry for mouthing off. When he finally approached her, Joey said, “Mrs B? I am sorry for acting like an A–S–S!”
To which Mrs. B rolled her eyes and snapped, “I do not accept that!”
Standing close by, I said, “Give him some slack, Mrs. B. At least he spelled it right.”
And so this power struggle continued, and Mrs. B began to pick a fight with each of my students when they appeared to their “assigned” classroom there in the library, demanding that they each have a pass when they came to me each day. Which was ridiculous to say the least. The final straw came one day when she jumped my foster son, Justin, when he came to see me, crying because he’d had a meltdown in class. Most teachers knew of Justin’s relationship to me and they understood when he was in crisis he was allowed to hook up with me throughout the day. Mrs. B certainly knew this as she and Justin had become friends. But for some reason that day, Mrs. B demanded a pass from him, and sent him from the library bawling his eyes out.
Later, when I found out about her rude behavior, I approached Ross Dirks and pleaded with him once more to get us a room, so my students would no longer be subject to Mrs. B’s frequent “control” issues. Once again, Ross assured me the library would work out and asked me to keep plugging away and work with Mrs. B.
The final straw came the next day. Mr. Murphy, the frequent recipient to some of my most bawdy jokes (and a friend of mine) walked into the library with a late book. Mrs. B proceeded to give him the fifth degree, and Murphy walked over to me, shaking his head and saying, “Was she serious?”
I said, “Oh, yeah. don’t you know this is the Queen of Means Kingdom? And violators will be flayed!”
I then stuck my hands in my pocket only to discover that I still had flash paper and a lighter stuffed in there from my storytelling performance from the night before at a YMCA summer camp. For those who don’t know, flash paper is what all magicians use as the moment you touch it with flame it will flare up into a brilliant fireball. I used it on all my swords and during most performances. I thought it was just my luck to still have some of it on me that day there in the library.
Dayton, my student, looked at me with wide eyes as I turned to him and Mr. Murphy and said, “Watch this.”
Now I know hind sight is 20/20, but if I had to do again what I did that day, I would definitely say, “Yes, I would!” Because the results were classic.
I cupped the flash paper and lighter in my hands and approached Mrs. B seated at her computer. I simply said, “Mrs. B? I think you have a loose wire on your computer.” I then ignited that flash paper and tossed the fireball up in the air between us.
Mrs. B let out a riotous whoop! and sprang straight up out of her chair like she had a rocket launcher beneath her. The fireball, of couse, had went out with a brilliant six-inch in diameter flash, and the crazed look on her face said it all. She spun around and fled!
When she got to the library door, she skidded to a stop, spun around, and snarled, “Whatever that was, it wasn’t funny!”
She then hightailed it down the hallway, past the main office, and scurried like the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels, into the nurse’s office. Where she stayed for the next half hour.
Marty, the school nurse, came to find me, and smirking and trying not to laugh, she said, “Tom? Whatever you did to Mrs. B, I think she wet her pants!”
Murphy, Marty and I laughed at this, but my student, Dayton, looked at me with wide eyes and asked, “Could you get fired for doing that?”
“Fired?” I said. “Nice play on words, Dayton. But what is she going to tell Mr. Dirks? Oh my God, Tom flashed me?”
The news spread through the school (pardon the pun) like wildfire, and before long teachers were passing me in the hall and either shaking their heads and chuckling or making little explosive noises with their mouths and little flourishes with their hands, reenacting the come-uppance of Mrs. B. She wasn’t well-loved by most staff, and two teachers actually asked why I hadn’t waited for them to see the fireworks.
The next day, Ross Dirks, shaking his head and trying not to grin, headed me off before I stepped into the library. “Tom,” he said, “in light of yesterday’s fireball, Mrs. B no longer wants you or your students in ‘her’ library, so I have found a solution. You now have your own room and your own computer.”
In the end, as far as pranks go, that was a flash in the pan, but it sure accomplished a lot. My students and I went on to produce 2 plays, 3 board games, and a publishing press for the school’s students to present their writing through booklets we created.
And as to Mrs. B? Well, by the end of that week, I sent her an offering of flowers complete with a man kneeling inside a doghouse on an apology card. I even drew long hair and a beard on the man to indicate it was me in the doghouse. I later found out, Mrs. B simply snorted when the guy delivered the flowers and . . . tossed them into the nearby trash can.
Oh well, can’t say I didn’t try.