By Cal Evans
Punishments when I was growing up were an experience in my family. We had the normal wrist-slaps, “washing-your-mouth-out-with-soap” and the parental favorite, the “butt-blistering.” But those were usually reserved for those special occasions when Dad had “had enough.” Everyday punishments were metered out by Mom.
My mother, who obviously studied under Gandhi, was a master of non-violent behavior correction. After honing her skills for years as an elementary school teacher, Mom was a master. She could punish you 4 ways before you finished your crime AND she never left a physical mark! To her credit, I attribute the fact that I love to write to the fact that one of her standard punishments for me was “Write a 500 word essay on what you did and why it was bad.” By the time I was in high school, I could write them in my sleep. There were times I would, on a whim, write the essay before committing the crime. (Might as well fit it conveniently into my schedule).
From writing sentences, to copying paragraphs to one of the most dreaded of all, copying a passage out of the Bible; (not only were the words hard to memorize but as a by-product, you actually learned something) she was the undisputed master. My only revenge for these perceived tortures is much to her horror, now that I am a parent, I can practice this black art as she taught me. Many a time, after discussing with her the fact that I had made my daughter or son write sentences she has quipped “If I knew that you would do this to my grandkids, I would have never done it to you.”
But my mother reached the pinnacle of her art in the spring of my 12th year. We were living in a suburb of Miami, FL named Perrine. It was a simpler time, a time when you knew your neighbors, when it was ok to trust people and you left your doors unlocked. Well, at least that was my story because during a brief period that year, I had trouble remembering to lock the door after coming home from school.
Maybe it was the trauma of growing up a latch-key kid. More likely it was the trauma of growing up a latch-key kid, having to go to the bathroom, and having forgotten my latch key! Whatever the scapegoat, I had a serious mental block going here. Many times, I would come home from school, head straight for my desk to do my homework oblivious to the fact that I had left the house open for anyone to come in and steal our 12″ color TV (by color I mean the molded plastic case was color), the 15-20 dead plants mom was hiding from the neighbors, or – for a brief period that even my therapist thinks I should repress – my hamster. All this wealth was for the taking because I could not remember to lock the door.
After many attempts both traditional and non-traditional, Mom and Dad were at their wits end to get me to remember to lock the door. They met together one night after putting us to bed to discuss the subject. The debate was long and furious. There were discussions, filibusters and backroom deals. In the end, like an episode of “I Love Lucy”, the most devious of plans was hatched.
My memory is fading now but if I remember it correctly, the sentence handed down prescribed the following routine.
Every day for a week, when I arrived home from school, I put my books down and began. I walked to the end of our front sidewalk and turned to face the house. Then I recited; “One…I will now lock all the doors in the house.”
Upon evoking this incantation, like a Minister of Silly Walks, I goose-stepped down the sidewalk until I reached the front door. Entering, I turned sharply and grasped the doorknob. Closing the door and staring straight ahead, recited “I am now locking the front door.” I engaged the locking mechanism on the doorknob and continued, “I have now locked the front door. I will now go check the other doors.”
With the echoes of my words fading into the air, I turned to my right and headed to the laundry room. Grasping the doorknob on the laundry room door, I examined it to ensure that it was in a locked position. Upon satisfying my thirst for this knowledge, I proudly recited “The laundry room door is indeed locked. Sector 7G is secure. I will now check the den door.”
Goose-stepping out of the laundry room and into the den I again repeated the procedure. Upon its successful conclusion, I recited my next line in this monolog; “Sir! This point of egress is secure. I will now check the sliding glass doors in the living room, Sir!”
Turning with precision that would make a Drill Sergeant weep with joy, I headed back into the foyer. I stopped exactly next to the front door, slowly executed a 90 degree turn to my left and stepped off to the sliding glass doors.
I was now at the trickiest part of the entire drill. Using only my left hand, I had to ensure that the sliding glass doors were indeed secured against unwanted intrusion. All without leaving fingerprints on the glass. Upon completing the maneuver, I stood at attention and recited. “Sir, the sliding glass doors in the living room are secure! The Evans family fortress of solitude is secure Sir,” finishing the entire parade with a crisp salute.
I then turned and marched to the front door. I broke the security seal and comprised the secure state of the house by opening the door. I goose-stepped my way out to the end of the sidewalk, returning from whence I started. Turning to orient myself once again, I took a deep breath and said “Two…I will now lock all the doors in the house…” And so it continued.
Yes, that’s right, for 1 week my punishment was to march a parade route ten times each day, securing the various points of egress along the way. Day one wasn’t so bad. As with any mind-numbing punishment, it took some getting used to but as I learned the ropes and perfected my turns I generally stopped wishing for a frontal-lobotomy and endured my punishment.
Day two started out well. As I was finishing up repetition three, a friend of mine ambled by. He watched me like Cletus for two full repetitions before mustering the wit to speak.
“Whatcha-doin?” he asked ever so eloquently.
When I did not return his verbal drooling, he became perturbed and stormed off. Little did he know that I would not interrupt my routine to talk to him or anyone else. Any interruption in the routine caused the daily counter to start back over at one. I ignored his presence and departure and continued along my parade route of stupidity. Soon he returned, having sensed an opportunity to humiliate me, with several friends. The afternoon drug on slowly. By repetition 8, they had setup a small card table and were holding up were holding up score cards as I marched back out grading my performance on precision and speed. It went down hill from here. (But I did manage a high score of 9.7 out of 10.)
Day three saw a crowd gather at the edge of our property line. Kids I had never seen before had the opening script memorized. They began to recite along with me as I started my script. It took on a festival like atmosphere and deep down inside I was glad that my personal humiliation could bring joy to so many.
By day four I was seeing adults show up with lawn chairs. It had become a neighborhood event to watch me execute my punishment/drill. The script was now available for all to participate. Copies could be purchased for a nominal fee before the day’s festivities began. I half expected to see street vendors selling T-shirts and glow necklaces. Through it all, I kept my head held high and my mind on my drill. All in all, it was bearable.
Then came day five, Friday, my last day of what I had come to think of as “The Perrine Death March.” I was ready for this ordeal to be over. I marched out the front door and to the edge of the sidewalk where the reserved seating began. I pausing briefly to allow the audience to get ready and then we started with once voice, “One…I will now lock all the doors in the house.” With the audience shouting along, we looked for all the world like a bad scene out of “The Rocky Horror Show.”
I strode through my first repetition without incident. Stepping back to the front door, I smartly executed a precision door-open maneuver just as the doorbell rang. Startled, I looked up and almost broke stride as I found myself standing face to face with a Rev. Paul Ball of the evangelical team of Rev. Paul Ball and Mr. Don Boon. Fearing an additional day of punishment if I stopped to talk, I side-stepped him and strode out of the house and to the end of the sidewalk. The crowd murmured as the judges conferred amongst themselves as to whether this incident would weigh against my score. Luckily it did not and as I was turning, I saw a 9.4 out of the corner of my eye. Rev. Ball stood there bewildered watching the carnival before him and the small boy marching to the beat of no drummer reciting like a lunatic monk in a Gregorian chant.
I turned and with precision and gusto started; “Two…I will now lock all the doors in the house.” His jaw was agape as I strode back past him and into the house. I could only imagine his look of disbelief as the door shut curtly in his face. I would have loved to see the look on his face 10 seconds later when the crowd, exactly on cue, erupted with “The laundry room door is indeed locked, I will now check the den door.”
Having secured the den door, rounded the kitchen and heading into the living room, I broke with the script for the first time in a week by shouting “MOM! There’s some guy at the door!” and continued on in stride. As I was completing the living room door check, Mom opened the front door for Rev. Ball. The crowd outside and I recited “Sir! The sliding glass doors in the living room are secure. The Evans family fortress of solitude is secure, Sir!” I snapped my turn to the applause of those who could see me through the now open door and strode out the door as Mom quickly ushered the bewildered Rev. Ball into the house and off the parade route offering up explanations of insanity on my father’s side of the family as she went.
I finished all ten repetitions of my drill that day. Upon completing the last one, I took a bow before a standing ovation of adoring fans and judges, many of whom I never saw again. I am happy to say that I never had to repeat “The Perrine Death March” in any form. I’m not sure if it was because I learned the lesson or that Mom was embarrassed over the festivities it drew. I was satisfied to know that punishment by parade marching had been retired.
What I did not know that that time, what I could not have known, what I would never have imagined in my wildest nightmares is that Rev. Ball and Mr. Boon, would continue to float in and out of my life. My parents eventually opened a business selling music to churches. Mr. Boon, who gave up the glamorous life of a traveling evangelist to settle down as a Minister of Music in a church, would not only become a customer but would frequent their workshops. Every year I attended a workshop Mr. Boon would greet me with a smile and say, “I am now locking the door.” It never got funnier than the first time he said it.
Needless to say, this was one lesson that will stick with me.