The Adventures of Shadowski and Powell
by L. T. Fawkes
Some years ago, on a brisk spring afternoon, my entire Spanish 4 class got sent to the principal’s office. Here’s what happened:
It was probably the same at your high school: Freshman year there were three or four Spanish 1 classes, each of them crammed with twenty-five or thirty awkward and acned fourteen-year-olds, but by the time senior year rolled around, the number of Spanish scholars had dwindled down to a single class of seventeen or eighteen short-timers.
This particular class I’m telling you about had an odd dynamic. The girls, with one or possibly two exceptions, were studious people who tended toward cardigan sweaters, unfortunate hairdos, and poor posture. (The couple of exceptions were not particularly studious young ladies. In fact, they – how can I put this delicately? – um – it wasn’t their first rodeo?)
I can’t tell you for sure how those studious girls ended up in Spanish 4, but I mean, if you’re a studious girl and there’s a Spanish 4 available, are you going to stop at Spanish 3? Cash it in? Call it a day? I think not.
The boys, oddly enough, were mostly jocks, and I can tell you how they ended up in Spanish 4. The guidance counselor at our high school was a rabid sports fan who enjoyed chatting it up with the jocks, and he’d been guidance counseling for a long time. You don’t spend several decades guidance counseling and not end up with quite a lot of wisdom, and this guy had distilled all his accumulated wisdom down into one bit of advice which he shared freely with his friends the jocks. It was this:
Take Spanish 4. Then you don’t get stuck with a language requirement in college.
Now, I don’t know if this is a universal truth, but the way the studious girl/jock dynamic worked in that Spanish 4 class was that the studious girls (who, up until they walked into that classroom, had led pretty sheltered existences), on finding themselves surrounded by a bunch of jocks who were used to pretty much doing anything for a laugh and usually getting away with it because they were jocks (jocks who were, for the most part, fairly attractive young specimens of man-hood) the studious girls thought everything the jocks did was hilarious, even when it wasn’t.
In short, the jocks had the studious girls rolling in the aisles.
Our high school had a pretty rapid turnover when it came to Spanish teachers. The rate, as I recall, was one per year, and in either Spanish 2 or Spanish 3, we had two different teachers in the same term.
The Spanish 4 teacher, whose name I can’t remember so I’ll just call him Señor, was a young carrot-top with nervous indigestion and allergies. He was pale and frail and started the year with a bad case of the shakes and we certainly didn’t help him any.
It was not uncommon for him, each time the jocks got the studious girls wound up, to run out into the hall. Through the long window that framed one side of the classroom door, we could sometimes glimpse him dry-swallowing pills which may have only been antacid tablets but who really knows for sure?
Where was I? Oh, yeah. The two starting linebackers for our football team were best friends, they were both in that Spanish 4 class, and, due to incredibly poor judgment and lack of foresight on the part of Señor, they sat right across the aisle from each other.
I don’t know if you know about linebackers, and if you don’t, it’d take up too much room to give you a complete picture, but let me just say that they are ferocious-crazy on the football field and in all other places they pretty much do what they want because who’s going to tell them they can’t? Not me.
Shadowski thought Powellwas the funniest guy to ever walk the earth, and Powell appreciated that fact. Powell, besides being funny, also had an artistic bent. For as long as I’d known him, he’d entertained himself in classrooms by inking humorous decorations onto the pages of his textbooks. Then he double-dipped on the entertainment factor by surreptitiously holding the books up for those seated around him to enjoy.
The fact that authority figures frown on people decorating their textbooks in black ink didn’t deter Powell whatsoever. Each year as time for textbook inspection and collection drew near, Powell’s textbooks magically became decoration-free and other people’s mothers found themselves writing checks to the school board.
All during the Spanish 4 year, Powell hunched over his Spanish 4 textbook inking in his traditional humorous decorations, most of which had to do with providing excretions in various forms and exaggerated body parts to the folks in the photographs and illustrations.
But that spring day, he added something new to his arsenal. Was it Dali who had a blue period, and then a green period, or whatever? Well, Powell added something new to his folio, and the something new was carpenter ants.
He began to draw lines of carpenter ants winding up and down the margins, in and out of the text, up the pant legs of people in photographs and into their noses and ears. And he put a lot of effort into his work. His carpenter ants weren’t your run-of-the-mill black blobs. Oh, no. He carefully sketched in the tiny little segmented bodies and the tiny little legs of each and every ant. No detail was too small for Powell.
If you’re sitting bored silly in a hot, stuffy Spanish 4 class taught by a neurotic young teacher and somebody holds up a textbook for you to look at and you stare at it, trying to understand what you’re looking at, and you suddenly realize it’s lines and lines of carpenter ants winding their way through the text and pictures, it’s funny . I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if the guy holding up the book is Powell and you’re Shadowski or not. You’re going to laugh.
Señor was writing a homework assignment on the blackboard. The fact that he had his back turned to the class was what gave Powell the opportunity to display his artwork. Shadowski burst out laughing, and so did I (I should have mentioned that I sat right behind Powell), and so did several of the girls who sat in our immediate vicinity.
On hearing the sudden burst of laughter, Señor spun around, glared, and slammed the book he held onto his desktop with a loud bang. The loud noise startled Shadowski and he sat up straight as a board.
“Señor Shadowskii. Qué hace usted?”
And I may be misremembering this because it’s been a long time since I had any reason to speak Spanish, but what I mean to indicate the teacher said was, “Mister Shadowski. What are you doing?”
What Shadowski meant to say in reply was, “Nada, Senor.” Pronounced nah-dah. Which means, “Nothing, Sir.”
What he actually said was, “Nadie, Senor.” Pronounced nah-dee-yay. Which means, “Nobody, Sir.”
Spanish 4. That’s Spanish 1, then Spanish 2, then Spanish 3, and finally Spanish 4 – and Shadowski thought nadie meant nothing.
The laughter this time was universal.
Shadowski looked around, pleased with himself. Señor pounded on his desk and then pointed dramatically toward the classroom door.
“Shadowski. Office ,” Senor screamed.
Powell raised his hand.
Senor glared at him. “What.”
Powell said conversationally, “I’ve been thinking it over, and I really feel that I ought to go to the office, too. Seriously.”
The crowd went wild.
Senor pointed at the door again.
“Go,” he screamed.
Powell pointed at his chest. “Moi?”
More, and louder, laughter. French. See?
Senor screamed, “All of you. Get out.”
Our class straggled down that long, long hallway toward the office. I’m pretty sure I heard at least one of the studious girls sniffle. It seemed like it took a long time before we arrived in the office doorway.
There were three secretaries who worked in the office. They all had tight perms and bad attitudes. One of them looked up as we reached the open doorway and a look of horror mingled with fear spread over her face as she took us in. Fortunately for her, and probably for us, too, our good buddy the guidance counselor, holding a coffee cup in one hand and what might have been a jelly donut in the other, happened to be standing near her desk.
“Ho,” he said, taking in our large number. “Let’s go over to the library. There’s more room over there.”
He ushered us across the hall to the library and we all settled around tables. I noticed several of the girls looked a little ashen, and one or two of us might’ve smelled like teen spirit.
The guidance counselor said, “So, Shadowski. What’s up? Powell?”
Powell said, “We got kicked out of class, sir.”
The guidance counselor said, “What. All of you?”
Shadowski said, “Yup.”
The guidance counselor scratched his tummy. “What for?”
Powell shrugged. “We were screwing around.”
The guidance counselor looked a little flummoxed. “Huh.” He looked around the big room and he might have been looking for a little counseling himself, but he didn’t find any.
“Huh,” he said again. Then he stood up from the table and gave the surface several gentle pats before turning to leave. “Well,” he said over his shoulder, “Don’t do that anymore.”