*Red window is the offending window.
Setting: Spring of 1987 3rd Floor Dr. Holcomb’s Classroom
In 1986, the high school received a group of first year teachers that were in a word. Horrible. Some might have been in their “very first year”, some were simply new to this school. It was such a bad hiring cycle that the next year the gentlemen that had a hand in hiring the majority of them found himself teaching 10th grade English and being the advisor to the Newspaper and Yearbook classes. Talk about a demotion.
What made it so bad? I’m not sure if it was simply their incompetence or if it was a bit of that mixed with a rowdy group of students spread out over two to three graduating classes. One of the hires was Dr. Martin Holcomb. On the first day of class, he described himself as an “esteemed scientist”, while stuttering a little bit. He sounded a lot like Detective Greg Medavoy from “NYPD Blue” who was portrayed by actor Gordon Clapp, and he looked like a shorter and thinner version of actor Richard Kind, who has had numerous bit roles over time but only had ¼th of the mouth. If you throw in his bulging pocket protector and decade old glasses, you could tell right off the bat he might have a tough year.
He might have been an extremely bright man, but he lacked people skills. Beyond that he lacked the ability to talk to teenagers as opposed to talking at teenagers often over their heads. He was just a bad fit for a classroom. Or in the very least a high school class room. He might have been better suited teaching advanced science classes at a university, or even more so stuck in a lab somewhere.
He never said why he wanted to teach. He drove about an hour and a half each day to do so. A fact that simply added to the confusion. He had a much shorter drive to the “Research Triangle”, but maybe that is where he was working beforehand. Maybe being in a lab was burning him out and he needed a change.
He lasted one year. Then vanished, never to be heard from again. No, not in a Jimmy Hoffa sort of way, more in a “get me the hell away from these bastard students”, type of way. The class “Physical Science” was mostly taken by 9thgraders, and a select few 10th and 11th graders that had their schedules screwed by the incompetent guidance counselor. Overall I’d say it was 80% freshman, 15% sophomores and 5% juniors.
“Marty”, as the students would often call him, which was always quickly corrected by its “Dr. Holcomb”, had a hard time controlling his class. He had a hard time getting them to pay attention, and if the end of year testing was in place back then, it would be hard to imagine a high % of students passing them.
It was so bad, that the principal had to have a lot of work regraded by an experienced science teacher because at one point roughly 90% of the students were failing the class. Maybe he was getting even for all of the spit wads that went flying by his ears, or sticking to his glasses when they were perched on top of his head.
Each day he would write each student’s name on the chalk board. Whether you were a “good” student, meaning you behaved, or whether you were more of a “trouble maker”, each day, A to Z, in each class. 6 classes a day at that point in time. How much time was wasted doing that on a daily basis? If he caught you talking, not paying attention or goofing off, you got a mark by your name. If you got 5 marks you got detention. Needless to say he was the king of tally marks and the poor bastard always put it on the chalk board by the door, and at times someone would ask to go to the bathroom and give them a swipe on the way in and out, and he’d notice when going to add a mark that some were missing; it confused the hell out of him each and every time. Why he didn’t photocopy a list of names and keep the tally marks at his desk is beyond me.
While there are no records to go over, I would say that out of the 180 school days there were very few that didn’t have kids staying after class for detention. The bulk of those likely came at the start of school year, before he created his tally mark system.
One afternoon in the spring,12-15 kids had detention. Dr. Holcomb would spend that time writing notes down on the overhead projector for the next day. Each class their own color of ink. Yeah, he was a bit of a nerd, but that’s okay. It makes sense to separate it from class to class, but what doesn’t make sense is to not keep each “physical science” class on the same set of notes. Again, there is no telling how much time he wasted.
Well, on this particular afternoon, the intercom creaked and said, “Dr. Holcomb, please come to principal Gordon’s office”. So to prevent the “detentionees”(yeah it’s made up), to prevent them from leaving he padlocked the door shut. Many of the doors back then instead of having keyed locks that worked, had a latch and padlock on them. That sounds safe doesn’t it? Can we say fire hazard? When you add in the fact it’s on the third floor on the back side of the school, overlooking the “smoking area”, yeah there was a smoking area where kids that had “parental permission” could smoke or chew tobacco. Yes, it was an entirely different world and no, there wasn’t a certified “make out area”, where kids could get parental permission to feel up their girlfriends or boyfriends.
The door is locked, so a couple of kids start looking out the back windows. Another goes up to the overhead and starts to erase his notes. Others are talking in a group. But Richard Herman had other plans. He said aloud, “How many of you hate this bastard?”, that was acknowledged in various ways, a head nod here, a “yep” and an “of course” there. Richard gets out of his seat and goes back to the back window. Raises it all the way up. These were pretty damn big windows. He goes up to the front of the class room and grabs the overhead projector and takes it back and slings it out the window. While there is no official weight, it would be safe to say those were 15-20 lbs maybe heavier? It crashes with a bang and some yelling. Wally Morrison, one of the school’s custodians was out back with a couple of students smoking some cigarettes. Well, at least it was assumed to be cigarettes but who knows.
He’s yelling up at the window and starts stomping towards the doors to come inside. At this point Dr. Holcomb returns, unlocks the lock and comes in and looks stumped. He’s confused. Looks around his desk, looks around his table, and then he asks “where is the overhead”? Nobody answers. Not a peep. The classroom is finally silent. Again, and a bit louder, “where is the overhead?”, someone says “Mrs. Berry, the librarian came to get it to service it”. Quick thinking. He turns to leave the classroom to go down the hall to the library and locks the door shut again.
By this time, a pissed off Wally Morrison has made up the three levels of stairs. Wally was about 5’8” , 250 some odd pounds. Not being in the best of shape, he was out of breath and angry. He had some scraggly facial hair and curling locks falling out from under his ball cap that he likely wore 24/7. Yes, like most other high school janitors he had a key ring with 131 keys on it. To make this story even stranger, he didn’t have a key to Dr. Holcomb’s lock. He’s knocking on the door, yelling “which of you bastards threw that overhead out the window”. The classroom again sat in silence. The assistant principal is there by now, summoned by Wally on his walkie-talkie, he didn’t have a key to the lock either. He was another stumpy, short portly man with about 4 lbs of beard, Not quite a “Duck Dynasty” beard but just 200 times the amount of facial hair as the average hairy man. He and Wally start arguing about neither one of them having a key.
At this point, Dr. Holcomb is coming back to the class room and sees the two men at the door. He asks “What’s going on?”. Asst. Principal Ted Malone turns and says, “Well for starters one of your students tossed the overhead out the window and it almost killed Wally”, he continued, “and secondly neither of us have a key for your God Damn lock now open the damn door.”
Dr. Holcomb halfway acting like he’s a student and 15 years old starts to stammer and fumbles the key and finally gets the door open. “Wh wh whi which one which one of you wh which one of you threw the overhead out the window?” Silence. Nothing. Zero decibels. Not even a cricket. Mr. Malone asks basically the same question. Again silence. Malone says “We’ll sit here till midnight if it takes it.” At that point, Richard Herman says, “I did it now what?”. Wally was about 6 feet from him starts towards him and Malone grabs him while Dr. Holcomb looks like he’s in some 1960’s basketball stance trying to guard Bob Cousy. That was funny. Wally might have been a grown man at around 40, but he would have had his ass beaten if he would have got closer to Herman. Even at 15, Herman was six feet something, a solid buck-eighty, he eventually walked on at South Carolina State, but got kicked off the team for an argument with a coach. It would have been a bad day for Wally.
Mr. Malone escorted Herman to the office. Gave him 5 licks with a paddle, gave him, 3 days of out of school suspension and he had to pay to replace the overhead. Dr. Holcomb got reamed out as well for the personal “lock” on the door, but he got a new door out of it, one with a lock and that started the process of replacing the doors one by one. Too bad it took them awhile to replace the library doors (more on that at some point, that poor Mrs. Berry and her withdrawals.) To think it all started because someone almost killed Wally.