Wednesday, February 26, 2003

I was supposed to go to Nashville this weekend for my youngest sister's 10th birthday, but she's decided to come visit me in Atlanta instead. In light of my cancelled trip to Music City, I give you:

The Next Three Nashville Stories

I was talking to my middle sister Sara, the one in High School, on the phone last week. I love talking to her on the telephone; in the past two years, I've found she's always got interesting things to say, things like:

"This guy shot his whacker off at a basketball game last week!"

"No!" I said.

"Yes!" squealed Sara in that excited giggle way that only teenage girls can squeal.

We both started laughing, and she told me that while she was at a basketball game with her friends, a gun had gone off in the crowd. Instantly everyone ran down the bleachers and out the emergency exits. In the push to get out of the gym, ("It was crazy", she said), she turned around and relaxed, because it was obvious what had happened. There was one boy, sitting in a pool of blood. He had shot himself in the upper thigh.

Of course the kids panicking and running out assumed that one of the less fortunate kids had gone nuts and started to shoot people in the school; what had really happened was that one of the "gangsta" kids - the social grouping that emulates rap stars - had shot himself. He had a pistol tucked into the waistband of his baggy jeans. The pistol didn't have the safety on. When he stood up to do the wave, the gun went off, injuring him in the "upper thigh" said the press, but Sara and her friends know the truth.

"He shot his whacker off. And everybody knows. The doctors aren't sure if it can be fixed yet. They had to rush him to the hospital. What an idiot. They're gonna redistrict the High School next year."

I laughed, because an idiot kid shooting himself accidentally is kind of funny, but I was also laughing because it's not really so much funny as scary, and you have to laugh at the scary things some times because there's nothing else you can really do about it.

One of my uncles went to High School in Nashville briefly for a time in the early 80's. The school he went to was one of the really big ones, with nearly 2000 students. They had some classrooms set up so that several dozen students could be taught at a time - not auditorium style, like universities, but just really long rectangular classrooms. Kids at the back couldn't hardly see the teacher. The rooms were really just three classrooms with the dividing walls knocked out and big collapsible aluminum folding walls in their place. One class in high demand - say, Freshman English, would come in, and fill up the giant rectangular room. After that period was over, kids would run to the side and pull the two folding walls back across - they ran on metal runners up at the ceiling - and turn the large space back into three rooms again, so that different classes could be taught. Everyone came in and turned their desks around -

"And you had better hope that when they pulled the walls out you had enough desks in your part." Said my uncle -

And classes - say, calculus, civics, and French - would be taught in the separate spaces. An hour later, the bell would ring, the curtains would be pulled back again, and the space used for another very large class.

The overcrowding problem has gotten better in Nashville since the early 80's, partly because administrators have realized that overcrowding, weather it be in High Schools, prisons, or even just sporting events, leads to violence. My uncle once saw another student use a drafting triangle as a weapon. The kid threw the triangle, and it stuck, plastic point first, into someone else's forehead.

Of course, my uncle loved that drafting course, and credits it for starting him on his career path as a civil engineer.

I actually learned how to shoot a rifle from one of my High School classes, in the vocational building, on its campus, which seems like a ridiculous idea today.

My parents lived for a while outside the Nashville city limits in one of the less affluent factory towns that surround the city. There I enrolled in the ROTC program my freshman year of High School because, well, I was afraid of gym. I've never been a team sports type of person, and I was a very late bloomer, and a lot of the girls I went to school with were frankly scary. ROTC allowed me to fulfill my physical ed credit by sitting in a classroom 3 days a week. We only had to be in uniform on Wednesdays, and we only had to really sweat on Fridays, when we worked out by running in formation or doing sit ups or whatever.

Our second unit in the class was marksmanship. We were all given .22 rifles and shot while laying down on the floor at paper targets in little yellow metal backstops. And when I think back on all the other kids I knew in ROTC, I have to giggle. We were all the outcast kids who were afraid to go to gym 'cause we'd get beat up, or the kids who were so poor they knew they'd end up in the army after High School anyway, or the psychopaths who wanted to kill, kill, kill (or at least wanted to project that image).

And into the hands of these young freaks, the school not only willingly put firearms, but also taught us how to use those rifles in the most efficient manner possible. We were even taught about scopes and how to find the best place, strategically, to place yourself in a position to shoot but not be seen.

Of course the Gulf War happened that first year I was in ROTC, making it the last year I was in ROTC. I still have mixed feelings about letting military programs into High Schools. ROTC really helped a lot of my friends, and our teacher, Sargent Clater, was really a great guy. I doubt he's still teaching marksmanship on school grounds though. At least, I sort of hope not.

Read the first 3 Nashville Stories
Read Another 3 Stories About Nashville

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