When I first heard about the 10th anniversary reunion at my old High School I wasn’t interested, until I remembered Mr Sorensen and his goddam paddle.
Things went well for me after I graduated. I went to college and qualified as a plumber and worked at that for a couple of years until I got bored. Then I went in to the Military: that was good, I travelled to places I’d never have seen and made some good buddies.
I found it hard after the Army and I’ve drifted from job to job since. I don’t seem to be able to settle down much. I had a good relationship, but that broke up because I was told I was no good at “commitment.”
I was drinking in a bar when I saw a story about the reunion in the local newspaper. It didn’t make much impression on me; I just assumed I wouldn’t go. What was the point? I’d drifted away from most of my High School graduation classmates; people do, don’t they. I kept in touch until I went to the Army and after that I hadn’t bothered.
I had a few more beers and went back to my rented room. I found it hard to get to sleep and it wasn’t only because of the beer. In my mind I kept going over my schooldays, and particularly I couldn’t get a certain Mr Sorensen, the English Lit teacher, out of my head.
My High School was a tough place to be. We were blue-collar kids, from mostly poor families. Nobody at home was much interested in education, and certainly not English Lit, and everyone – students and their parents – were just itching for the day they could leave school and get a job.
We were a restless bunch, especially as we got older and reckoned school had nothing to offer.
Mr Sorensen was one of a kind. You stepped out of line with him and you got your butt blistered with the paddle: period. I guess he must have paddled four or five of us every day. If you didn’t do your assignments it would be over the desk for three swats. Inattention in class; two swats: late for class; two swats. There seemed to be swats for everything. He was particularly hard on kids he thought were “punks.” To him a punk was the loud-mouthed, disobedient student who wouldn’t be told anything.
He was always willing to help out the women teachers; they had the worst time with the punks. But, the punks calmed down once they realised that the ladies would send them to Mr Sorensen to kiss the top of his desk.
He would often paddle a boy in front of the class. It was more humiliating for the student to have his classmates looking on during the punishment and it also encouraged the others in good behaviour: you knew if you stepped out of line and it would be your turn next.
A typical class would start with collection of or handing back of assignments. That was a dangerous time; kids who didn’t hand in or who had done badly were asked to stand. There would always be at least one boy, and usually more than one, on his feet. If you hadn’t handed in and didn’t have a legitimate excuse you were done for. If you had scored less than a C+ your butt belonged to Mr Sorensen.
The guys were lined up against the wall, facing the class. Then Mr Sorensen would get the “Attitude Adjuster” board from his desk. It was a typical paddle, just like all the others used in schools, I guess. It was maybe twelve or fourteen inches long, by three wide; shaped in an oblong. It had smoothed down sides and a handle to grip it by.
Each boy in turn was ordered to stand forward to be told, “Assume the position.” To a lot of kids from other schools, “Assume the position” meant bend down and grab your ankles, but in Mr Sorensen’s class it mean go to the teacher’s desk and lay across it, so that your chest and stomach connected with the desk top.
We called it “kissing the desk” but no one literally did that. Once they bent over, kids were never sure where to put their arms. The solution depended on how tall you were, I think. Shorter kids folded their arms and buried their faces in them. The taller ones could reach out and hold on to the legs of the desk.
If we were wearing a jacket, Mr Sorensen would take the tail end and fold it up our back, then he’d grab the waistband of our pants and tug it hard so there was nothing much between the pants and our asses for protection. If we had no jacket, he would go straight to the pants yanking. Then, without a word, pop, pop, pop, he’d whack the paddle into the seat of your pants.
“Stand up,” he would command. “Next boy.”
Then, as the first boy rose from the desk, desperately wanting to rub the agony out of his butt cheeks, but not daring to admit to the teacher or his classmates he was hurting, the next boy in line would assume the position.
This went on until all the boys had blistered butts and then the lesson would begin.
Mr Sorensen swung the paddle a mighty lot, but I don’t remember anyone getting swats who didn’t deserve it. We knew the rules; if we kept to them our butts were safe. But if we broke the rules, then what did we expect?
I got swats so many times, I can’t remember them all. But, I have to admit, without the threat of an ass whipping, I would never have done any work. The fact I graduated at all was down to the Attitude Adjuster.
The worst paddling I got from Mr Sorensen had nothing to do with the quality of my schoolwork. By the time I was eighteen, I was getting out of control. My mom and dad couldn’t handle me and I was spending a lot of time on the streets with friends. Sometimes I wouldn’t get home until the early hours and oftentimes, I’d be drunk.
One day the strangest thing happened. I was staggering home drunk early one Sunday morning and I was so far gone I stepped into the road in front of an oncoming car. Thank the Lord the driver wasn’t as drunk as I was and he swerved to avoid hitting me. There was no traffic, so no damage was done, at least not to the car, but the driver’s nerves were shattered.
I swore at the driver, as if it was the poor man’s fault. As I staggered on I heard the distinct voice of Mr Sorensen. Blearily, I turned round, to see his head poking through the open driver’s window. Boy, was he mad.
He drove me safely home. On Monday after school I found myself facing him in the classroom. I’d expected him to be mad, to tell me I was a punk and then to paddle my ass raw. In fact, only one of these things happened.
I knew this was not going to go as expected when he invited me to sit down. This wasn’t going to be a lecture; this was going to be a conversation. He asked me about my life, what I did in my spare time and who my friends were. Nobody had ever asked me these questions before. Mom and dad always complained about my friends and what I got up to, but they never asked me “why” I did things.
Looking back, I think I was just waiting for someone to ask: I told him everything. To be honest, my life wasn’t very different to those of my classmates; but some of them were coping a lot better than I was.
We talked a lot and Mr Sorensen said I needed help to identify my “priorities” and to set myself “objectives.” At first, it sounded like bullshit, but as he detailed the kinds of things I should think about; such as what job I wanted to do when I left school; what I needed to do to qualify for it and so on, he began to make a lot of sense.
He also said I needed “encouragement” to meet these objectives. I needed praise when I achieved something, but also punishment when I failed. The way he put it, it seemed so clear cut. He told me to go away and make a list of priorities and objectives and take them to him and he would guide me in the appropriate way.
I readily agreed.
But, before our meeting was over, we still had to deal with my drunken misbehaviour. I had expected this and was ready to take my paddling. I had screwed up, I could have been killed, and heck, if there had been more traffic on the road, I might have killed Mr Sorensen too.
I assumed the position submissively: Mr Sorensen was entitled to do whatever he felt fit with my ass.
I hadn’t expected the ferocity of the attack; Mr Sorensen was like a demon possessed. This wasn’t just a pop, pop, pop, paddling; this was a full scale attack on my butt. The agony was so great I lost control of my senses: how many swats did I survive? I think it was ten, it might have been more.
I howled, like I had never screamed before. I was glad my classmates were not there to see me, but my yells were so loud, anyone still anywhere in the school building would have heard my pitiful shrieks.
At the finish I was breathless, and so was Mr Sorensen. His commitment to spanking me with that paddle was total. Still face down across the desk, I buried my head in my arms and sobbed and sobbed. After a few minutes, I was calming down a little, but my ass was burning, the pain was searing, I had never felt such agony in my life. Had he attacked me with a paddle or a hot iron?
I remember he stroked my hair, before giving me permission to stand up. I got to my feet and stumbled, but Mr Sorensen caught me before I fell.
Once I had composed myself I was allowed to leave. Later at home I pulled my pants down and looked in the mirror at my ass. Each bun was scarlet with a spot of purple in the middle. He really had blistered me. There were lines where the edge of the paddle had hit and I could tell I had had my ass properly paddled. It was the next day before I could sit down easily. My whole rump turned a lovely shade of black and blue and it was more than a week before the bruises slowly faded.
Thinking about Mr Sorensen and those days made me want to go to the reunion after all. There was quite a good attendance, and I had been mingling with some of my former classmates for some time, but there was no sign of Mr Sorensen.
I was hugely disappointed. I had simply assumed he would be there. I didn’t actually know if he still taught at the school; or had moved someplace else, or, please I hope not, he had passed on. I wanted to see him again and tell him what I thought about him and his treatment of me all those years ago.
I knew Mr Sorensen was not popular among my classmates so I didn’t want to let people know I was anxious to meet him again. Even these days I wanted to be one of the guys.
Eventually, I could stand it no more and asked my friend Tommy. “Yes, he’s here,” he said with a wry smile, “He’s doing one-on-ones in his classroom.”
One-on-ones? Meeting people one at a time for private conversations and who knew what else?
I made my way to the classroom, passing a guy in the corridor. It was Ricky; he had been the class genius, always acing tests. My mom told me he went to university out West somewhere. He didn’t look too happy; I couldn’t be certain, but there appeared to be tears behind his eyes.
I reached the classroom. From the outside it looked the same as I remember it, except for tonight at least the glass windows in the door had been covered up, so you couldn’t see inside. I guess it was to give him privacy with his one-on-ones.
I raised my fist to knock on the door and hesitated. For the first time since I hatched this plan, I had my doubts. This was stupid. It was all a long time ago, I’m an adult now. We should forget the past and the paddlings and all that pain.
I knocked anyway and a confident voice responded. Apprehensively, I entered. Mr Sorensen had changed, but not much. His hair was a little thinner and grayer and his waist a little thicker, but he was the same Mr Sorensen.
He called me by my name; I was ridiculously delighted he had remembered me. “Hello, Sir,” I responded.
He smiled at me. It was a genuinely welcoming smile. “Come in, how are you? Tell me everything.”
Tell me everything. He had asked me, so I did. I told him about the mess my life had become in the past three or four years; how I had no structure to my life, no priorities and no objectives.
He listened passively, apparently taking in every word that I said.
“I have this list,” I said, pulling paper from my pocket. He took it from me and read it carefully.
“And, I still have this,” he reached over, opened the drawer in his desk and pulled out the Attitude Adjuster.
Our eyes met, we understood each other very well. There was no need for either of us to speak, except for him to say, “Assume the position.”
More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
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