It was a lazy Sunday evening near the end of my senior year when I was with an unlikely group of my classmates, cruising the streets of my small hometown. The four of us had time on our hands and needed something to do. The party of four included our driver, George, the straight “A” student, normally associated with the “smart kids” who behaved themselves. Dickie was next, one of our few black students – great with his grades and a good athlete, not prone to getting in trouble. On the other hand, there was Clark, who was considered crazy, weird, and unpredictable. Then there was me. How and where we acquired nearly a dozen little “banty” chickens is another story. What we did with them follows.
Our smallest conspirator entered the high school through an unlocked window high on the gym. Once inside the school proper, we stood on desks in several classrooms, lifting up the ceiling panels momentarily in the newly modernized school. We placed the chickens in the overhead open area that went the full run of the school building. It was dark and the chickens quickly went to roost.
That not seeming like enough, we went to the shop and grabbed a quart of bright yellow enamel paint and a small brush. At the front of the school, I painted on the large glass windows “Chickens for sale – see Al Long” (our school principal). That still didn’t seem enough. We drove to the newly built, yet to open, car dealership on the main highway, and painted “Chickens for Sale – See Al Long” across the huge plate glass windows. Under that I painted “Low Overhead”, thinking myself quite clever to add the expression used by salesmen of the day. We eventually went home, finally satisfied with our hard work.
The following morning, we arrived at school to a great uproar. Noisy roosters were crowing, hens were squawking, all were pooping in that overhead, especially under the skylights over the seating areas above the classrooms. Stinky evidence of their presence was on desks, seats and the floor. Classes were disrupted for hours by students and teachers, chasing the chickens, still in the overhead, from room to room, unsuccessful in their removal. Finally, someone removed a few overhead panels and left them open. The chickens finally began to jump down, and a new chase ensued! Banty chickens are wily and fast at eluding pursuers.
Later in the morning, I was called to the principal’s office. Clark and Dickie were already there. The Principal, the School Superintendent, and the Sheriff were present. They grilled each of us individually, threatening jail if we didn’t reveal the fourth person involved. Due to our refusal to reveal George’s name, they gave us the paddle and assigned restitution. When I got home, I found that my mother and father were quite shocked, shamed, and angry with me. I was puzzled. Was I not carrying out the school tradition my dad had previously related of putting a cow in the second story of the school library?
Years later, I ran into Al Long, who had since retired. He asked me who has been that fourth person. I said it was George, driving his mother’s car. He stared with disbelief and said, “Why after all this time are you still protecting the identity of that person?” My insistence that it was George, his favorite grade “A” student, was useless. I’m sure he went to his grave believing he didn’t find the actual culprit.