Rob and Dana had their ways of cheating in their classes. Walkie-talkies, cue cards and secret compartment watches were their devices of choice. They attended different classes than I did.
Don, however, attended the algebra class with me. Don and I were more inclined to burglary and getting whole tests rather than sneaking in a few answers. Our algebra teacher had three different versions of each test. We had no way of knowing which version he would use. Our initial plan was to go in at night and get a copy of each test. The room where we attended algebra had moderately high windows: about five feet up from the floor at the bottom of the window and eight feet at the top. They were hinged on the top and had a latch at the bottom. The floor of the room was not at the same level as the sidewalk outside, it was about three feet higher. That made the bottom of the window eight foot high from the sidewalk level. Before leaving the classroom, I unlatched one of the windows at the back of the room behind a curtain.
That night we came back with a hammer and nail. I pounded the nail part way into the wood at the bottom of the window. Don hoisted me up; I used the nail to pull the window open. I slipped inside. Unfortunately, the teacher’s office was built as a separate room inside the algebra classroom, and the door of that office was locked. I was not willing to do any damage to the door or wall or window. If I had done any damage to the door or lock, it would have alerted the teacher that something was up.
I went back out the window and pulled the nail out. Sometime later, Don was able to sneak into the teacher’s office during school hours and get the three copies of the test.
As I said earlier I was only cheating for the thrill of it. I wanted to learn the material and I did. The test we got were ‘blank tests’. I had to solve all of the problems on three tests. After doing all three tests I would just go in and take the test again having already solved the problems. I would not have any answers with me. I would just redo the test.
Dale and some others got the test results from me. We were able to bring in written down formulas and notes into the classroom where the test was held. The others would have the answers for all of the tests written down and could quickly determine which version they were taking.
On one of the tests of our friend Matt was one of the people with whom we shared the answers. Matt somehow made the mistake of putting the answers in the wrong place, one question off on each answer. I’m not sure how that happened or how far along in the test it happened. For instance, on question #8 he had hit answer to question #7 and on #9 the answer for #8 and so on for the rest of the test. Matt was an Eagle Scout and had a reputation of being a straight- as-an-arrow, honest kid. He usually was. In fact, he became a pastor.
The teacher put an arrow from each answer back to the correct question, even when the answer was on the next page from the question. Matt got full credit and an A on the test. If Don had done the same, he would have been caught for cheating. In fact Don got some answers wrong on purpose and got B’s or C’s on the test just to avoid suspicion. Fortunately, Don considered B’s and C’s good enough.
My friends started to cheat in school quite a bit, even though they didn’t need to cheat. They were not taking a lot of difficult classes and they were getting good grades in their classes. They just really didn’t care if they learned the material, especially in classes such as English. They didn’t have any really big plans for their future. They were bored and cheating was fun and exciting. They even came up with very creative ways to cheat.
I did not need to cheat either. I was taking different and harder classes than they did. But I was planning on going to veterinary school and I needed and wanted to learn the material. I was also bored, and cheating was a way of kicking my little grey cells into action. They did not have AP courses back then and even my higher level science courses were not challenging. My cheating was different than that of my friends because I still wanted to learn.
At one point, Rob needed to memorize a section of hamlet for his English class. He devised a way to cheat. He had hair over his ears, so his plan was to have a walkie-talkie strapped to his leg inside his bellbottoms, and to run a long wire to an earbud. Dana would hide behind the curtains backstage and read the section of Hamlet to connect with the other half of the walkie-talkie. They practiced a bunch to make sure that it would work. On the day of his presentation everything was going fine when, all of a sudden, Rob couldn’t go any further. The teacher asked him to back up a couple of lines.
Dana couldn’t go back and couldn’t go forward; he was completely stuck. The teacher just thought that he got some sort of sudden stage fright. She said he could try again in a few days because he had gotten so far perfectly.
As it turned out, Rob could hear everything just fine through his walkie-talkie but quite unexpectedly there was a CB interference and all he could hear was two guys talking to each other on a citizens band radio. When Rob came back to try again a couple of days later he had a bunch of us with giant cue cards up in the balcony of the auditorium behind the teacher. Rob got through the presentation and got an A. The funny thing is that all that work Rob put in to cheat was beneficial. He ended up learning that whole section of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and can still recite the entire thing to this day.
Rob and Dana had a watch with a day and date display. They had taken the inner parts of the watch out. Once the strip of paper was free, they would write test answers in very small letters so that they could read it through the display case of the watch as they would wind it.
I didn’t have very many classes with Rob and Dana. They weren’t taking classes such as chemistry and physics. During my senior year I skipped physics a lot because it was during Rob and Dana’s lunch hour. Then during my lunch hour I would go to whatever class they had at the time. I had shoulder length hair and I remember them writing answers on the back of my neck. When the teacher wasn’t around I would look down and they could read the answers on my neck. If the teacher would walk by, I would look up and my hair would cover the answers.
My next venture in shady business was financing the purchase and distribution of marijuana. Dale told me that if I gave him $500 to buy pot, he could get a good bulk price, split it up and make a huge profit. He said he would pay me back $750 in four weeks. I cashed some mature savings bonds I had received years ago from my grandmother Thorsgard. It took longer than a month to see any dividends from my investment because Dale had been caught with some of the stolen Pamida merchandise in the meantime.
I did get my money back, eventually. I did not smoke pot but at this point in my life I had no qualms about what others did with their lives and if I could make a few bucks on their bad choices then, why not?
One day I went to first hour chemistry class, Evelin – an intriguing creature – came to class hammered; totally drunk. She was loud and obnoxious. I’m not sure how she made it through chemistry without the teacher finding out. I spent the rest of the school day driving her around so that she could sober up. Before school, Don and Evelin had gone golfing. Evelin was a straight ‘A’ student and an excellent golfer on the high school golfing team. They were drinking lime vodka and Mountain Dew. Obviously, Evelin drank more than Don did.
Evelin’s dad was a lawyer. He worked only four days a week and took every Friday off. Quite often Evelin’s mom and dad would leave for the weekend and were not home on Fridays. Evelin’s house was one of the places I would go when skipping school on a Friday in the spring of my senior year.
For a lot of Thief River school children, skipping school became popular starting in and about 1971. I was in the 7th grade. My sister was in the 10th grade and my brother was a senior. The school district tried modular scheduling. There were six days in the rotation. The days of the rotation had nothing to do with the days of the week. If day 4 happened to be a Friday then Monday was day 5. If day 2 was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving then the next Monday would be day 3. Each class had one large group – as many as 80 kids – in the six-day rotation was another unique feature of modular scheduling. Then there were regular classes with 20 to 30 students and finally small groups of five or six students. There were also home rooms and study halls.
The students figured it out right away but the teachers were confused and had no idea where the students were or where they should be, especially during large group session days. They could not take or verify attendance with that many kids; if they did, other children could answer for the missing ones. Skipping school became rampant, especially in high school.
My brother had a friend who had a job at the ‘elevator’, during the school hours of his senior year. He was still able to graduate from high school because of the confusion created by this complicated school scheduling.
I hadn’t started skipping school in junior high, but in the ninth grade when we moved to high school, because the district had changed the junior high to a middle school, my friends and I started to skip school occasionally. The school district finally decided that modular scheduling had been a total disaster and went back to a more traditional class arrangement. Being a truant was no longer easy. Before the return to normal scheduling, the tendency had already been established in the student population.
In order to counter the stricter oversight and to better control that the school had over students’ attendance, the first thing my friends and I did was to re-write all of our parents notes in our own handwriting. When we moved from 8th grade to 9th grade, we knew that the new school would not have any examples of our parents’ hand writing. By always re-writing the notes, our handwriting became our parents’ handwriting as far as the school knew.
We didn’t skip all that much school in grades 9 or 10. Writing our own excuses worked for about a year and a half. One by one, we each got caught and had to figure out something new. My downfall was not to spell “ophthalmologist” properly. My dad was an M.D. and the school administration knew that he was unlikely to apply the wrong spelling to “ophthalmologist”.
Next, we started stealing the excused passes pads from the office. At first there was only one version but as time went on they started using different color paper and different stamps, which meant we had to keep our supply up to date.
When we were seniors we were skipping school quite a bit. All methods of obtaining excuse passes were getting very complicated. In the end, we just went into the office and got an unexcused pass. We would then carefully erase the check mark in the unexcused box and check the excused box. Then we would carefully fold the paper where the previous check mark had left a depression in the paper, fold the pass one or two more times and crumple it a bit in our pocket. That was the easiest method we used and it worked well during our entire senior year.
Apparently the main office went by what the individual’s classes reported as excused and unexcused because getting the unexcused pass for the office in the first place did not affect our attendance.
Our high school gymnasium had a large curved roof cover with black roofing tar. The class of 1966 had put a huge ’66 on the roof. That 66 had been on the roof for 11 years. We thought it was about time to replace it with our graduating year 77. The 66 was painted in white. We snuck up onto the roof of the gymnasium and painted a huge 77 in fluorescent green and orange. Blue and gold were our school colors so why green and orange? I am not sure. That summer, two months after we put our 77 on the roof, the school district had the roof re-tarred. 66 lasted 11 years. 77 lasted 2 months!
NEXT TIME – DRINKING AND TRAGEDIES – CH 11