Did a Stack of Board Games Change My Life?



loaded diceGreetings! I’ve taken a week off of writing for the Christmas festivities/obligations, and I’m a bit cold still—both in the literal and the literary senses.  So I thought I’d break this fast with a story that’s (hopefully) entertaining, and at the very least, it’s easy for me to tell.  I must warn you, however, that this article will be rated M for adult language.  That’s mainly what makes it entertaining.

When I was in high school, although we had pep rallies, we students weren’t required to attend.  For whatever reason, the admin gave the students the option of either attending the rallies or being corralled in the lunch quad (under supervision) for a 2-hour, open period.  As it was essentially the most liberty we were ever granted at school, rally days were fantastic.  Once this policy had been implemented, my geek group and I never again attended rallies, opting instead to go to the lunch tables and play tabletop games to our hearts’ content—Monopoly and Risk were regular features, as they were big, multi-player things, but there was always an assortment, and usually I was the supplier, hauling around these long, bulky, ill-shaped and irregular boxes with me all day.

On one of these rally days in particular, though it started out as nothing special, there occurred what the Doctor might identify as a fixed point in time. The bell had rung, summoning us back to our classes at the end of the rally, and I was off to 11th grade U.S. History, with a woman we’ll just call Ms. X.  There’s three things you need to know for context:

  1. Up to this point in my life, I hated everything about “history” as a school subject.  I thought it was the most boring, pointless, and irrelevant study imaginable (as all too many Americans do).
  2. Ms. X, before enlisting in the ranks of school teachers, had been a prison guard for the Los Angeles police department, and she hadn’t made the transition very well.
  3. At 17 years of age, I was generally an ass hole, and my permanent discipline record at school contained only one offense, but repeated countless times: defiance of authority.

On the fateful day in question, I had been wearing a cap with the bill turned backwards.  This was a school-approved cap, and there was nothing in the printed dress-code that prohibited wearing caps backwards (I know, because I kept the school rules handy in my backpack at all times, always the rules lawyer, even then).  This didn’t prevent faculty from reprimanding students for backwards caps simply on the basis that they thought it looked stupid.  Unfortunately, when you indicated that it wasn’t in the dress code, and you presented them with the dress code in print, then you made them look stupid, and they didn’t like that.  That’s why they invented the catch-all “defiance of authority” clause.

link encumberedI digress.  On this fateful day, I entered the classroom with my hat turned backwards and struggling to manage a giant, cumbersome stack of board game boxes, further burdened with the weight of a backpack full of textbooks (back in those days we still carried our set of books back and forth to and from school).  Ms. X pounced upon the moment, calling to me from her desk: “Geoffrey, turn your hat around.”

I don’t remember why, but I was simply unwilling to go to battle with her on this day and was totally ready to acquiesce. Perhaps I had won the day’s board game tournament.  At any rate, quite uncharacteristically,  I said:

“Okay, Ms. X. I’ll do it when I sit down.”

I proceeded towards my assigned desk, which couldn’t have been more than twenty feet away, but it was slow going: negotiating the other desks, and the other students, and the other bulky backpacks in the way.  I had barely gone three steps when she called out to me again, now in an elevated voice:

“Geoffrey, I told you to turn your hat around.”

Stunned by her aggression, but still willing to comply, I responded in a hurried voice:

“I will I will.  I just need to get to my desk.”

But she couldn’t even let me do that.  This hat issue—this control issue—was just that important to her.  She stood from behind her desk, and she shouted at me:

“Young man!  Turn your hat around RIGHT NOW!”

Short of mental deterioration and aging, I will never forget this moment, nor a hundred other, similar stories.  Episodes like these are why students hate school, and in fact I carry them with me as a teacher to this day, so I do not become what I hated.  I have written at length on this subject, in a much older, now largely inactive blog, for those who are interested.  For the purposes of this story, suffice to say I was not nearly as articulate at age 17.

Furious, I turned to face Ms. X, dropping the entire stack of board games on the floor and causing a bit of a mess.  I grabbed my cap by the bill, removing it from my head in a very deliberate motion, and shouting back at her:

“Fine! I’ll just take the god-damned thing off, then!  Is that okay with you, you fucking bitch!?”  And I threw the hat across the room at her.

The classroom went utterly silent, as did the teacher, while I gathered my things (not the hat), cleaned my mess, sat in my desk, and opened my notebook, ready to learn.  Of course, I didn’t remain long.  Within minutes, the armed campus security was there to escort me to the office, where yet another “defiance of authority” entry was logged onto my record.  I was prohibited from attending her class for the next three days, assigned instead to the “Alternative Learning Center” which is the name they gave to an on-campus suspension, so they could supposedly “punish” students while still collecting the state monies for attendance.  The real joke is that they regarded it as a punishment at all.  I spent three glorious days as a T.A./gopher for the football coach, running easy errands, watching football videos, and playing solo games.  This is what the school system does: it demands good behavior, punishes neutral behavior, and rewards bad behavior.

encumbrance comicAfter the incident, Ms. X had worked it out that I would not be in her class come the second semester, and this was a mutually agreeable arrangement.  As it turned out, I was only to be further rewarded, this time in a cosmic sense.  My second-semester 11th grade U.S. History teacher was the best teacher I had ever had up to that point—he remains in my top 3 of all time.  He transformed my entire understanding of what it was to study history and what the study meant to us, not only at a societal level but at a sociological and even psychological level as well.  My eyes were opened.  With his class, I had entered a stream from which I would never again emerge, in which I still happily swim today.  I devoured historical books ravenously from that point forward, which would not only improve my ability as a writer, but would ultimately propel me to graduate with honors from U.C. Berkeley with my bachelor’s degree in history.  Further, his example was among those that continued to shape my methodology, feeding into my master’s degree in education, and deeply informing who I am and everything I do now as a teacher.

So I don’t know if there really is such a thing as a “fixed point in time,” or if there really is a destiny or a script at play here.  The Buddha would remind us that any single occurrence is the end result of so many tens of thousands of overlapping ripples that it’s impossible to point to any clear and simple relationship of cause-and-effect.  But since it’s kind of fun to think so, and since it makes for a good story, and since the one thing I seem to truly excel at is defiance of authority, I’m going to defy the Buddha’s authority as well.  I’m going to muse that this entire sequence of events was hinged on the single fact that one fateful day, I was simply annoyed by the encumbrance of a stack of long, bulky, ill-shaped and irregular board game boxes.

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Does this “tale of schoolyard woe” resonate with you at all?  Have any “defiance of authority” anecdotes of your own?  What “fixed moment is time” was it for you that set you on the path to becoming a better person?  Leave me a comment below, and let’s wax philosophical.

3 thoughts on “Did a Stack of Board Games Change My Life?

  1. Thanks for sharing! Butterfly effect stories are always a favorite of mine, it’s always amazing to see how a seemingly insignificant event in life can snowball into something bigger. I also have to say, you were much braver than I was back in school; the closest I got to defying authority was texting in class, and even that was only on rare occasions.

    Liked by 1 person

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