It had seemed like a good idea at the time. We had sneaked over the fence and waited in the shadows outside the football field lights for the right moment, the crowning of the homecoming queen, to turn on the sprinklers. The powder blue, Cadillac convertible rolled up in front of the bleachers and stopped at the podium where the superintendent of schools and high school principal stood ready with the crown. My ex-girlfriend was preached on the top of the back seat next to the captain of the football team. They struggled to negotiate their way out of the Caddy and up the steps.
I was patient. I did not turn the sprinklers on until the principal had the tiara raised above her head. Everyone was smiling including me. I nodded to one of my buddies who turned the water key. At first nothing happened. I was wondering if we had the right valve. But, just as I was losing faith, several Rain Birds came to life. They popped up out of the grass on the edge of the field, twirled leaking water, and suddenly shot an arcing steam that pulsated almost like a machine gun. One of the streams hit the crowning ceremony, with force, at their mid-sections.
My friends and I were laughing so hard we hardly heard the screams or noticed the commotion as the spectators and homecoming precession scrambled for cover. We stopped laughing when the whole football team, including the coaches, charged toward us. While they could not see us, it was obvious someone had guessed our location, probably a groundskeeper. We hid under a canal bridge listening to what they were going to do to us when they found us. But I had pulled it off, or at least I thought.
Monday morning at school, they rounded up the usual suspects including me for interrogation. By the end of the day, they expelled my buddies and called the sheriff to arrest me. I had not thought about how much damage water can do to a borrowed Caddy convertible. The dealership was not happy.
I was sitting in the back of the patrol car when Mr. Kazmerscky, my math teacher, walked up to the sheriff. A few minutes later, I was released into his custody. This was 1965, in a small town; a simpler time.
My high school career had been turbulent. I had been expelled out of two different school districts. As I walked across the parking lot, Mr. Kazmerscky asked if I wanted to go to jail. I didn’t. So, he made a deal with me which I kept. For the rest of the year I attended school, stayed out of trouble, and was accepted to the University. Before Mr. Kazmerscky, I had been told I was stupid and would end up in jail before I was twenty. I paid for the damage by working in his yard every weekend. My parents thought I was off fishing. If it had not been for the Kaz, I probably would have filled the prophecies of all my teachers. But, he took the time and made a positive connection with me that saved my life. There is not a day I don’t thank him.
Twenty years later I was working in Brazil on the movie, The Emerald Forest, training jaguars. I had been there for several months and was making very serious money. One afternoon when we had wrapped for the day, I got a message that my mother had called. This was in the early eighties and communication was difficult and expensive, but I knew she would not have called unless it was an urgent matter. I learned that Mr. Kazmerscky was dying and was in the hospital. Several days later, I left the movie headed for the states. I was told by the producer that if I left, I would lose my spot on the movie, but I went anyway. I needed to thank my teacher.
It was several days before I got home. I was lucky to find my teacher alive and still lucid. We visited for many hours talking about old times in school (mainly my screw ups!) and I learned for the first time Mr. Kazmerscky had also had a troubled career in school.
It was time to go. I welled up as I told the Kaz that I had never thanked him for what he had done for me. He wiped his tears as he gripped my hand and said, “Ken, don’t thank me. Do what I did for you to those who need it.”
I have tried to be that person all my life. I never got back on that movie, but it was worth it.