With the Vietnam War raging and being drafted an indisputable possibility, the desire to make my senior year, 1967, a memorable one weighed heavily on my mind. Sometime in late September a few friends and I came up with the puerile decision to see which one of us could be on the receiving end of the most swats for the remainder of the school year. By the end of my junior year I had received the modest total of 13 swats. Most of them had come during gym class for “pantsing” unsuspecting targets (pulling down the shorts of another guy in class who presented no fear of retaliation) or towel-snapping some wimpy dude’s white behind in the locker room. I realized to achieve the coveted title of King of Swats, I would have to be much more creative, daring and willing to cope with the stinging pain resulting from a swift crack on the butt from a variety of faculty members. I didn’t just want to outdo my buddies in this ill-advised contest — I wanted to shatter the unofficial school record of 34. Although nobody knew for sure where the total came from, it was generally accepted as the correct number.
For those who did not attend high school during the glory days of corporal punishment, let me first explain a few critical aspects of the swat, the implements used and those who administered them. Most teachers did not give swats to their students. No women and less than half of the men teachers were vindictive enough to mete out the painful procedure. There were two types of paddles used, each with their own sadistic variations. The leather or rubber paddle seemed the weapon of choice for the gym teachers. It had a wooden handle with a one-quarter inch thick and 12 to 16 inch long piece of leather screwed into the grip. The classroom and shop teachers all used wooden paddles of varying lengths. The most feared of the wooden class were the ones with holes drilled into them—less resistance with stinging pain upon impact.
Without a doubt, the most feared of the Whackers was mechanical drawing teacher and Redondo High icon Mr. Glushenko — a short, stocky bald man with coke-bottle glasses and a twisted smile. The urban legend whispered throughout the halls of RUHS for years went something like this: In 1944, during The Battle of the Bulge, Mr. G took a bullet to his right leg. The next day his leg was amputated. In the mid-fifties, during class one day, a daring/dim-witted student flung a dart, landing in the wooden leg on the cantankerous instructor. Although it would have made them an instant celebrity, during my four years in high school no one demonstrated the bravado to ask Mr. G if the dart story was true.
I knew the competition would come down to Larry and me. None of my other friends were competitive enough (or stupid enough) to actually try to get swatted. The two of us often made idiotic bets involving immature acts of foolishness. We decided on two rules: 1. All swats had to be verified. This would prove easy to accomplish since word of any swat administered during the school day spread throughout the campus like a forest fire. 2. Mr. G’s whacks counted as two swats.
By mid-December the numbers were as I had predicted: me 15, Larry 14, John 6, Danny 6, Monte 3, Bob 2 and Steve 1. No one had yet been nailed by Mr. G. although I realized to reach the lofty goal of 35 swats it was imperative to receive a couple wallops from Mr. Magoo (a name that, if heard by the one-legged oppressor, promised swift justice with two swats delivered with the ferocity of a Rocky Marciano body-shot). To put a little pressure on Larry, I decided to execute a kamikaze move and intentionally pull some stunt to force Glushenko to remove his treasured lacquered redwood three-foot paddle from the locked glass case he so proudly displayed it in.
Pete Whalon, author of “The Siagon Zoo” has called Southern California home since age five.