When I was a boy, there was an area of St. Joseph School that was filled with mystery and intrigue. It was a staircase in the back of the building, and it led down. I probably didn’t even realize the staircase existed during my first two years in the school. However, as time passed and I moved through third and fourth grade, I began to wonder, along with my classmates, what was down that single flight of steps?
By the time my class was in fifth grade, some of the more adventurous kids might have tried to sneak down those steps at recess or at lunchtime. If they did, I know now, they encountered nothing more than a landing with two locked doors on either side. Getting in the doors wouldn’t have mattered much at that point—the thrill was in walking down those steps, standing in that darkness, and then walking back up to tell the tale.
It wasn’t until 6th grade that the knowledge of what was down those stairs was revealed unto us. The door on the right at the bottom of the steps led to The Boiler Room, a place where no student was fated to go. The door on the left led to The Stationery Closet. This was a place where those of us who had gained the confidence of influential nuns would be allowed to go strictly for the purpose of restocking the smaller stationery closets upstairs. It was from those smaller closets that my mom loaded up the cart that she pushed from classroom to classroom once a week selling supplies to students. These supplies included pens, pencils, pink rubber erasers, 12-inch plastic rulers, and those gigantic rubber bands with metal hooks that you were supposed to use to bind your books together, but that you more likely used to snap at your buddy when he was least expecting it.
That room, the stationery closet at the bottom of the mystical stairway, was the location of the Great Stationery Closet Robbery of 1979.
The facts of the case remain murky even to this day. As I noted in the diary entry above, I had spent some amount of time on May 21, 1979 working on our annual inventory of stationery supplies in the downstairs closet with Eddie and "friendly" Dave. I made a point of underlining the word "friendly" because David had been my best friend through much of grade school, but we had been through some rough times. Sometime around sixth grade Dave decided to "get cool" and started listening to heavy metal rock band KISS (whose name stands for "Knights In Service to Satan," don’t you know?). It seemed to me that once this happened, Dave just wanted to hang out with other members of the KISS Army in our class. Since I was heavy into my Elton John/Neil Sedaka/Barry Manilow phase, I just wasn’t cool enough to hang out with anymore.
Well, that’s how I saw it anyway. Eventually I did manage to escape the ranks of the uncool by turning myself into the class comedian. Not class clown, "class comedian." I would arrange to do my act in front of the class before field trips and on Friday afternoons before holidays. My routine consisted of making fun of TV commercials and impersonating the nuns, who didn’t seem to mind. Displaying a sense of humor allowed me a certain measure of quirky coolness—well, I wasn’t exactly cool, but my "weirdness" became acceptable, and the rough boys in my class stopped calling me names I can’t print here.
But I digress.
At some point during the week of May 21, 1979, certain members of the 8th grade class found their way into the Stationery Closet and stole a number of items (including, presumably, lots of those big rubber band things). Our teacher, Sister Austin Marie, confronted us gravely about it. She said she’d been so proud of us up until now, especially on our class trip to New York City the previous week. She said she was "disappointed" that it could all come to this in so short a time. She hoped out loud that this wouldn’t have an adverse effect on our 8th grade graduation, which would be happening in just a few weeks. Finally, she fervently hoped and prayed that the implications of this crime wouldn’t follow us throughout our lives and maybe even beyond.
Many kids were implicated in the scandal, including, but not limited to, Ko, Romo, Moby, Huzzy, and a bunch of other guys with nicknames I don’t remember. I don’t think any girls were accused of stealing, but some may have received stolen goods and would be held responsible for that crime.
The day after the scandal broke, everyone in the class was forced to write a confession and tell what we knew of the robbery. In my case, what I knew was absolutely, positively nothing, despite the fact that I was one of the lucky kids who actually got to visit the stationery closet on a regular basis. This was not some kind of Bill Clinton, "I did not have sex with that woman…" nothing. This was pure nothing. The fact of the matter was, I was the last of the Good Catholic Boys, and I was fairly naïve about a number of things, including the criminal activities of my fellow classmates.
I don’t remember what happened after the confessions were turned in. Maybe the culprits had to face some kind of punishment. Whatever was done to punish the perpetrators was done quietly. There might have been the threat that, as a class punishment, the party in the church hall after graduation mass would have been cancelled, but it went on as planned. However, now that I think of it, maybe that was the punishment since the party was a pretty tepid affair. The entertainment consisted of an 8-track tape of Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits. While today I fully appreciate the non-linear lyrics and surreal nature of "Wichita Lineman," all I remember about the party was hearing Campbell’s "Dreams of The Everyday Housewife," and thinking that it was a lame-ass song to be playing at an eighth grade graduation party in 1979. "Where the hell," I thought to myself (the use of the word "hell" being an early break from my Good Catholic Boy mold), "is the Village People 8-track?"
After graduation, I saw little of my former classmates and gradually forgot those dark days in late May 1979. In November 1997, I attended a St. Joseph School reunion, which gave me the opportunity to stand one more time at the bottom of the mystical stairway and ponder again the eternal mysteries of the Great Stationery Closet Robbery of 1979.
Oh, and Dave? If you’re out there, I like KISS now! Do you want to come over my house sometime and listen to Destroyer? I’m cool now!
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)