Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Master of the Candy Hunt

On a rainy day in early spring, a few of my Catholic high school classmates and I are hiding small bundles of candy that have been wrapped in aluminum foil.

We’re in a room that’s on the top floor of the school, which houses students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The room isn’t used often, and if it were more cluttered it might qualify as an attic. There are some chairs and a piano, but otherwise there aren’t many places to hide small bunches of candy that have been wrapped in aluminum foil.

We were originally supposed to be doing this in the schoolyard, which is a hill about the size of a parking lot, with enough trees and other hiding places to pose a real challenge.

But I did tell you that it was raining that day.

And you’ve probably guessed that I was in charge of this event. And you’re right.

Perhaps you also think that I volunteered for this. And you couldn’t be more wrong.

A few days earlier, my homeroom teacher, whose idea this was, had placed slips of paper into a container and asked one of the other students to pick one, and my name was on it. To this day I can’t help suspecting that all the slips of paper had my name on them.

I suspect this because my homeroom teacher always seemed to be volunteering me for something. A few months earlier, she had chosen me to narrate a Christmas pageant, and although the word didn’t exist yet, she surely taught me the meaning of “micromanagement,” insisting that I read the script her way: “This (pause) is the story (pause) of the first Christmas.”

On another occasion she showed me a speech she wanted me to give at some point. I took it home, read it and thought it was corny. Eventually I brought it back to school, hid it in the cloakroom and, thank God, she never (pause) bothered me (pause) about it (pause) again.

But now I am stuck. I am the Master of the Candy Hunt.

I’m sure my homeroom teacher thought the plan was foolproof: Hide the small bundles of candy in the schoolyard. Have the third-grade teacher bring down her pupils. Tell the pupils to find a bundle of candy and take it back to the classroom, where I would let the first five kids in and shut the door. The lucky quintet would be eligible for a drawing for a chocolate Easter bunny.

Unfortunately, my homeroom teacher never thought to call the weather bureau.

So now all the candy has been hidden, and it’s time for me to go down and get the third-grade teacher and her pupils.

But I see that the third-grade teacher and her pupils are already heading up the stairs.

Hmm. Well, that’s OK. (Callow teenager that I am, I don’t know an omen when I see one.)

When they reach the top of the stairs, the teacher hands me the key to the classroom. (Why did she lock it? It’s not as if there’s anything valuable in there. When was the last time anyone tried to fence a box of 64 Crayola crayons — with built-in sharpener?)

The pupils are let loose, and I begin to amble down the two flights of stairs to the floor that contains the classroom.

I’m probably not halfway down the stairs when I hear a noise.

It sounds like thunder. But although it’s a rainy day, it’s too early in the year for a thunderstorm.

Then I realize it isn’t thunder but a thundering herd of third-graders stampeding my way.

I scramble down the rest of the stairs and down a hallway to the classroom. Then I try to unlock the door. But the lock and the key and the entire building are old enough to have been dedicated by Calvin Coolidge, and there’s no way I’m going to get that door open in time.

So I have what I think is a brilliant idea: Take the first five kids and put them on the left side of the door and keep the rest of the kids away.

I might as well try to stop the Johnstown Flood with my bare hands and divert it to Peoria.

So there’s an overflow of kids on the left side, and all I can do is try to figure out which of them were the first five. Do I guess right? Probably not, especially considering that I can still remember one boy whose face was almost hysterical with tears.

I have written the finalists’ names on pieces of paper, and I ask the teacher to pick one. She doesn’t seem eager to do this, but she does it, and for better or worse we have a winner.

But even now, half a century later, I worry that one day I will look at the headlines that incessantly zip across the bottom of my TV screen and see “Mass Murderer: ‘That Chocolate Bunny Was Mine!’”

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