That’s the way I see it: Who pulled the fire alarm?

tsj column writers - thats the way i see it

By Jim Callicott

George and I were friends since the first grade. I say “were” because George passed away a couple of years ago. He had received a heart transplant which kept him alive a while longer. But I felt it was also was a shame because his original heart was so big.

We roomed together our first year in college until George decided he was educated enough and left school to sack groceries at the local Piggly Wiggly. A few years later, he was the Piggly Wiggly manager. Hard work and determination made up for the elusive college degree.

During high school we were like brothers. If you saw one, the other was near by. If one got into trouble, it was a safe bet the other was involved with the misdeed. This brought about the infamous fire alarm incident our final day of high school.

Seniors will pull pranks to celebrate graduation. It’s a tradition that, even though we didn’t invent it, we refined. We had decided early in our senior year that on the last day of school we will set off the fire alarms. George had picked out his alarm to pull and I had chosen mine.

We were trying to reach a decision as to the best time to set the alarms off. I wanted it to coincide with girls’ gym class. We would wait until the class was almost over when the girls were in the showers and then pull the alarm. Gym class would never be the same. I even volunteered to stand by the girls’ dressing room door and yell, “The gym is on fire! Run for your life!” George liked the idea but said it could cause a panic. So that’s what we decided to do.

So as not to totally disrupt the entire high school schedule, the 2 p.m. girls’ gym class was chosen. The girls were out of their dressing room a few minutes before the 3 p.m. bell signaling the end of the school day.

To make sure the event received proper notoriety, I wanted to invite the football team, the boys’ basketball team and the track team. George said with that many people involved someone would talk. I agreed and we settled on a two-man team: George and me.

George was to pull the alarm just outside the gym entrance to start the confrontation and I would pull the alarm on the opposite side of the gym as we exited, hopefully with wet screaming girls in various stages of undress.

I think we also invented Murphy’s Law during this episode, “What can go wrong will go wrong.”

At 2:40 p.m. I was in the gym ready to do my part. At 2:43 p.m. George pulled the alarm. After that nothing went according to plan. George turned to run into the gym and instead ran face first into Mr. Gregg, the principle.

Mr. Gregg grabbed George and the first words out of his mouth were, “Where’s Jim?” We had been in his office enough to be on a first name basis.

I was standing by the girls’ dressing room door yelling, “The gym’s on fire, run for your lives!” when Mr. Gregg entered with George firmly in his grip. This is where it got interesting.

We didn’t realize that this was the last day of school and the girls’ gym class met at 2 p.m. and was dismissed five minutes later. The only one in the girls’ dressing room was Miss Bertha, the gym teacher. She was taking a shower.

Miss Bertha stood about 5’ 5”, both ways, and weighed about 300 pounds. The alarm was sounding and I was yelling “fire.” Miss Bertha ran out of the shower, grabbed a towel and exited the dressing room.

Miss Bertha, being on the large size, faced the problem that there wasn’t a towel large enough to go around her. She was holding a towel in front of her as she ran out of the dressing room and collided with Mr. Gregg. The collision knocked Mr. Gregg to the gym floor with Miss Bertha on top of him.

George and I took advantage of the situation to make a quick exit just as the local volunteer fire department entered the gym. They were able to lift Miss Bertha off Mr. Gregg.

Miss Bertha was totally embarrassed by the incident and lack of a large towel. She did manage to give her phone number to one of the firemen. Mr. Gregg suffered a concussion and a broken left arm. He was taken to the hospital.

George and I actually did go visit him while he was in the hospital. The only thing he said to us was, “Get your diplomas and get the hell out of town.” We did as instructed. Miss Bertha resigned her position with the school and became a Jennie Craig associate.

As stated, George and I went to college. Every once in a while I would see George looking at a fire alarm in our dorm. He would turn and smile at me. I think the real reason he dropped out of school was to keep from repeating the episode. At least, that’s the way I see it.

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