Few who knew me also knew the principal of East Jefferson High School where I attended, Stephen J. Barbre, was my grandfather. I told a few fellow students, and only those teachers who were from Kenner were aware of that fact. I liked it that way. I flew under the radar most of the time. My art teacher, Mrs. Grant (not from Kenner), somehow knew, because I found out years later she took one of my projects to my grandfather and showed it to him. She thought it was well done, except I had a huge misspelled word in it. Whoops!
EJ had a cafeteria, and the food wasn’t that bad; it wasn’t good either. One day I forgot my lunch money at home. Lunch was only 25¢ or so in 1960. So, I made my way to the principal’s office. As I entered I spied Buck (what I called my grandfather) standing behind the counter in the outer office talking to one of the admin types. There were maybe six or eight other people present on both sides of the counter. I caught his eye and approached, saying simply, “I forgot my lunch money.” He reached in his pocket and gave me enough to cover it and maybe buy some candy after.
After I left, one of the school secretaries who witnessed the whole thing and did not know me began to chastise my grandfather. “Now, Mr. Barbre, you ought not do that. You know you will never see that money again.”
He replied, “Yes, you are probably right, but that was my grandson.”
What I knew about electricity at seventeen years old could be summed up in one sentence. “It bites me when I mess with it!”
That bit of education came earlier in life when I was lying in bed reading a book one day. I had a reading lamp clamped to the headboard above my head, but there was no bulb in it, and I am not sure why. It was daytime, and the overhead light was on, so I really had no need of it.
As I read, holding the book with my left hand, my right was over my head clicking that bulbless light off and on and off and on. Eventually, I realized I did not know if it was off or on. Distracted from my reading by that nagging question, I looked up at the hole where the bulb should have been and wondered, is it on or off?
Sometimes I do things with no regard for the ultimate consequences. Dumb things. Really dumb things.
I was compelled by my warped sense of curiosity to know the status of the light switch. The index finger of my right hand pointed at that gaping hole.
Oh what the hell! In it went.
ZZZEEEETTTT! It was on!
Those wires were just calling to me…
Flash forward a few years to high school, and I am seventeen. I had just finished my lunch and was headed back to wait for the bell to go to my next class. As I climbed the stairs, I noticed the light switch at the top that controlled the second floor hallway lights had no switch cover. In fact, it had no switch either. Bare wires poked out from the box, beckoning me to come and mess with them.
And like that empty light socket years before, I gave in to their siren call.
From previous experience and a bare minimum of common sense, I had learned enough about electricity to understand touching bare wires was guaranteed to generate a shock, so I grabbed the two wires, careful to grasp them in the insolated area. I then proceeded to touch the ends or the two wires together, and low and behold, the lights in the hall went on and off and on and off as I touched and separated the two wires.
As mentioned, sometimes I do things with no regard for the ultimate consequences. It never occurred to me that what I was doing could possibly draw unwanted attention.
A tap on my shoulder, and I turned to see a teacher I did not know glaring at me. Must have been a new one, because he was quite young. “Let’s go to the office,” he said as sternly as he could.
I was escorted down to the principal’s office. This was a really trivial infraction. I didn’t remove the cover or the switch, and a warning would have been more than sufficient, but I went along without protest. Obviously, this new teacher didn’t know who I was, or he would not have wasted his time, and I did not enlighten him. I was told to have a seat in the outer “customer” area, while my “arresting” teacher went in to tell on me to Mr. Breaux, the vice principal and disciplinarian at East Jefferson High School.
The “arresting” teacher soon came out and, savoring his victory, kind of sneered at me as he passed. Mr. Breaux followed a few minutes later.
Mr. Breaux knew who I was. He took one look at the offender, me, shook his head and said, “Lane, I understand you are studying to be an electrician?”
I grinned sheepishly.
He said, “Get out of here!”