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A Weapon of Choice II
The second installment of our pen related serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter II


Life might have gone on uneventfully had it not been for Joey Thompson and his gang who brought tear gas to school and set it off. They claimed it was an accident, but it was probably a practical joke. These were the guys who'd sabotaged the junior high school fire alarms two years earlier and claimed that was accidental as well. They were suspended, and for a while it looked as if they might get kicked out permanently, but when they and their families agreed to counseling, they were allowed to come back. That's how things were in town right then, though my mom says it hadn't always been like that. Grandma Lore Harnisch wanted the boys to be publicly humiliated. I think she'd have approved of stocks or pillory. Or a public flogging at the very least. However, since she couldn't get her way, she complained a lot about how disrespectful young people were and nagged me more than ever.

Once Joey and his pals set off the tear gas, life at school went to hell. Teachers started jumping at every loud noise and the principal threatened at least twice a day to have the police patrol the hallways. Since we only had three policemen in the entire town and one of them was so old that he slept most of the day away, no one took that threat too seriously. The worst thing was that the principal drew up a whole bunch of new rules about what students weren't allowed to bring to school. On the surface, the rules made sense. Nothing that could be used as a weapon or was designed to resemble a weapon was allowed. The new regulations never specified who'd get to decide if something resembled a weapon or what the criteria were for determining if something was a weapon. He had support from the local newspaper, which echoed his obsessions with "the tear gas incident," warning that our high school was on the brink of anarchy if strong measures weren't taken.

My mom said everyone was overreacting to an isolated incident caused by known troublemakers, but no one listened to her. I didn't imagine that the new rules would have any effect on me personally. I just didn't like the increased tension and paranoia in the air. But I went to my classes, practiced running and ran my races, talked pens with Mr. Harmon, and tried to ignore what I couldn't change.

For a week after the tear gas incident, things were pretty quiet, but that didn't make the teachers any less nervous. Then Eddie Wall got caught and suspended for pulling a metal nail file out of his pocket in woodshop and using it to dig a splinter out of his thumb. And Martin Cavanaugh got busted for cutting out a news clipping in the cafeteria with the scissors on his ancient Swiss Army knife. The blades on the knife had long since fallen out, but scissors counted as a weapon, I guess. After that, I should have known anything could happen.

You might expect person of average intelligence to be able to tell the difference between a fountain pen and small cylindrical device designed to explode and propel a tear gas pellet. They really don't have that much in common. The problem was that the tear gas devices had come in packages bearing the label "tear gas pen," and that's how everyone referred to them. Properly speaking, of course, a tear gas pen isn't a pen at all. But have to admit, now that I'm older and less upset about everything that occurred, that the devices were vaguely pen-shaped. And it so happened that the ones set off at school were also pale green, not exactly the color of my Esterbrook but close. It was and still is, as far as I know, illegal to own tear gas pens without special permission from the police, but they were available in catalogues. That's where Joey and his pals got theirs.

Unfortunately Mr. Willard, the football coach who also happened to be my health education teacher that year, was not a person of average intelligence. In fact, there was some question in our minds if he was a person of any intelligence. He seemed like a grown-up version of the school bully, mocking everyone who didn't play football, picking on kids who couldn't defend themselves, and generally making life hell for everyone he could dominate. Maybe questioning his intelligence wasn't fair. Maybe he'd just never seen a fountain pen before. Granted there were some very superficial similarities between Joey Thompson's weapon and my Esterbrook, but there were also marked differences.. My Esterbrook was a light piece of plastic with a thin lever on the side and a nib on the end. Joey's weapon was much bigger and fatter, made of heavy metal, and it had a gaping hole where a small tear gas cylinder could be screwed in, while my pen had a nib. The tear gas pen had triggering knob instead of a lever. But none of that made any difference to Thomas Willard.

One minute I was sitting calmly in health education class copying this notes from the board while he just sat at his desk picking his teeth with an index card. The next minute he was lumbering towards me, face red and eyes bulging. "Okay," he yelled, grabbing my writing arm with a ham-sized paw, "hand it over!"
"What?" I mumbled, stunned.
"That pen," he said. "Give it to me!" He yanked it out my hand. "Now get out of here! To the principal's office!" He pointed at the door with my pen.
"At least let me put the cap on the pen," I said.
"Don't tell me what to do, punk," he barked. "Get out of here! Now!"
He tossed the uncapped pen in the general direction of his desk, but it missed, landed on the floor and bounced a couple of times. I wanted to punch him out, but although I was taller, he had at least a hundred pounds on me. So I just walked out the door.

To say I was furious would have been an understatement. I trotted over to the principal's office, barged into his private cubicle, and tossed the pen's cap on his desk. He had obviously just gotten off the phone with Mr. Willard because he just looked at me and said calmly, "You broke the rule against bringing weapons to school, Jason. You're suspended for three days." He nodded at the cap. "Get that thing off my desk, please. And sit down while I phone your mother."

Mom showed up in about fifteen minutes and she was fit to be tied. "Since when is a fountain pen that he has been using for a year a lethal weapon?" she barked at the principal.
"Now, Amanda, calm down. Rules are rules, and I have to apply them impartially. I know Jason is a good boy, but I have to back my teachers."
She sniffed. "You call that oaf a teacher? Don't forget that I know him."
The principal shook his head. "Your personal feelings about Tom Willard have nothing to do with this."
My mother looked over at me. Whenever anyone used the phrase "personal feelings" she usually raised her shoulders and asked, "Tell me, have you ever had any impersonal feelings?" Usually that got a laugh out of me, but I was too upset to laugh.
"Mom!" I burst out, "He took Grandpa Edgar's pen and threw it on the floor. Without the cap." As I showed her the cap I could tell that more was going on than I was conscious of, both in me and in my mom. I felt very young, small, and helpless, the way I had when Grandpa had died. She just looked at it, then at the principal. I could tell she was very angry because her eyes turned from gray to green, but he didn't really know her and mistook her soft tone of voice for submissiveness.
"And your explanation for this wanton destruction of personal property is…?" she demanded quietly.
"Weapons are confiscated, Amanda," he replied. "Now please be so good as to take Jason home. I have work to do."
I followed her out the door and into her car. "I'm going to call Ed," she said. Ed was our lawyer, Ed Conley.

 


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