I had the opportunity this weekend to show to Carina the high school photos of some of the people with whom I went to school. My picture was notably absent, since I was expelled from the school three months before graduation.
When I was a student, we had Channel One programming pumped through our classes. I was extremely annoyed at how puerile the content was, and scoffed at the administration’s attempts to sell this drivel to us as a good thing. Several of us quickly agreed to express our disdain by launching an underground student newspaper. We chose to call it “Channel Two”.
The first issue of Channel Two was pretty silly, and lacked any kind of cohesive focus. It was a single sheet of paper, printed double-sided, with a hodge-podge of articles. At Kinkos we produced a couple hundred copies on blue paper, which were then discretely passed to friends for placement throughout the school. We tried pretty hard to spread out the distribution, so that no one person could get nailed for the whole thing, but in hindsight we were pretty naive about what we were doing.
Channel Two was surprisingly well received. It was a novelty throughout the school, and there was a lot of buzz as students tried to figure out who was responsible. Our group was certainly high on the list of suspects, but no one could definitively finger us as the perpetrators. That initial publication ran out fast, and through the week we overheard a lot of discussion about it. To our surprise, a few of the teachers even commented on it in class. Feeling empowered, as well as brazenly self-righteous, we set to work on our second issue. We also obtained a Post Office box, so that students could mail us contributions.
My friend Pete – may he rest in peace – was eighteen, and the only one in our group legally able to rent a P.O. Box. He was happy to do so for us. There was some delay as the post office needed to confirm his application, but it was finally approved. Pete gave keys to the box to two other people in our group, so that we might collect submissions a little more discreetly. The other keyholders were fringe participants in our little project, and had a fair amount of plausible deniability.
The second issue, printed on grey paper, was a lot edgier, and had more cohesion. We attacked one of the teachers who had criticized our first issue. We criticized the administration, and the diocese. We published our P.O. box address, and invited contributions of content, as well as money to offset our out-of-pocket expenses. This issue was also surprisingly well-received by most of the students, but it was clear that we had stirred something unpleasant in the administration. I forget now the exact sequence of events, but several things happened in quick succession. Despite our angst there were a few teachers we genuinely liked. In our zeal to rebel, we had succeeded in offending or alienating some of the teachers who might have been able to help us. The administration also started to quietly try to discern who was responsible. I didn’t get wind of this until too late, but the principal and Dean of Boys were working hard to identify us.
Recognizing that we’d been a bit unfair, we tried to make amends. We published “Faculty Trading Cards”, with caricatures of some of the teachers and a list of silly facts about them. We printed six cards to a page, picture on one side, facts on the back. We made a dozen or so sheets per teacher, but due to an oversight during the printing, we had one teacher (Sister Margaret, if I recall correctly) that had only three or four sheets printed. The cards were an instant success. By the end of the day, the entire school was scrambling to assemble a complete set of cards. The Sister Margaret card was quickly identified as the rare card, and hallway conversations often included “I’ll give you two Mr. Iannarinos for your Sister Margaret!” It was extremely hard to keep a straight face through all of this. We did our best to try to trade with people, to make it look like we were trying to collect the cards, too. The crowning moment of the whole Channel Two experience was when the principal announced on the public address system that he’d trade a couple of his cards for a Sister Margaret card.
Unfortunately, we again let the popularity go to our heads, and published the third, and final, issue of Channel Two. Printed on green paper, the only word to describe this issue is “pornographic”. Every article published was about human sexuality, and only a few of them weren’t overly graphic or salacious. We very clearly crossed the line of decency, and the administration wasted no time in shutting us down.
There was some minor confusion when Pete rented the P.O. box. He could either rent a personal box, or a commercial box. The personal box was cheaper, so that’s what he selected. Because we had solicited money to be sent to our box, the school administration was able to get the post office to reveal the box owner’s name. The administration put forward the claim that we had engaged in mail fraud (registering a P.O. box non-commercially, and then trying to engage in commercial activity), and Pete was the first person to visit the principal’s office. Since he was legally an adult, and the signatory on the P.O. box, the administration leaned hard on him with the threat of criminal prosecution. The principal wanted Pete to reveal his co-conspirators’ names, in order that we all might be punished. Pete looked squarely in the principal’s eyes and said, calmly, “I am not a fink.” As a result, Pete was suspended for one week.
I was third to be hauled before the principal. I’m fairly certain that the guy before me sang like a bird, but I’ve never really bothered to find out. I told the principal that Channel Two was the work of me, Pete, and the other guy who’d just left the office. I saw no sense in trying to deny my own involvement, but I wasn’t about to name anyone else. Several more people were interviewed before the day was over. In the end, four of us each got a one week suspension. At the end of the suspension, two were invited to come back to class the following week. I was expelled, and so was the guy interviewed before me. It has always been exceedingly clear to me that the administration felt the need to make an example of someone, and for a variety of reasons – in my case, most notably, because I refused to apologize – we were that example.
The events that occurred in the principal’s office, as well as the appeal before a review board at the diocese, are stories unto themselves. Perhaps I’ll document them, some day.
At the time, I was terrified that the expulsion would have long-term negative consequences. I was worried about perhaps being rejected from college. I’d never personally known anyone to be expelled before, so I had absolutely no idea what really happened: expulsion always sounded so “juvenile delinquent” to me growing up. The practical reality of the matter was far less dramatic than I ever expected: I was politely transferred to another Catholic school. The other scapegoat victim transferred to the same school with me. Such transfers happened with surprising regularity, I learned. I was a smart kid with good test scores and a strong academic history, so in truth I had nothing to worry about as far as college was concerned. Perhaps if I had chosen to go to some elite, private college, instead of The Ohio State University, things might have been different. But OSU could have cared less. Once I graduated, no one would have ever known I had been expelled unless I chose to tell them. (I suppose if I ever run for public office that Channel Two will be used against me. Remind me not to run for public office.)
We finished the year at the Catholic high school, where we made a few friends, and generally coasted through the final months. In an ironic twist of fate, the other school was just starting several units we had just finished, so we were able to earn perfect grades with almost no effort. Since I was dating a girl from my old high school, I got to go to two proms, one at each school. The only really interesting story from those last three months was in the second or third week: sitting in history class, the ditzy girl across the row turned to me and asked “So why are you guys here, anyway?” I glanced over my shoulder, where my fellow Channel Two publisher-in-exile sat and asked in a deadpan voice “Should I tell her?” He nodded solemnly, so I looked the girl square in the eye and said quietly “We killed a teacher.” The girl blanched, but I couldn’t keep a straight face long enough. As I burst into laughter, she sighed her contempt and turned away. She never spoke to me again.
I feel awkward attending the first school’s reunions, since I wasn’t actually a graduate. I go anyway, though, since all my close friends went there. Interestingly enough, I have yet to receive an invitation for a reunion at the school from which I graduated. To this day, I have a moment of pause when trying to answer the question “Where did you go to high school?” because I’m never quite certain which school I should mention.