PA systems crackle memories of principal’s office

Burt's Eye View

Before the PA system’s final crackle, I’d burrowed beneath the table.

“Will Burton Cole please come to the front desk. Burton Cole, please come to the front desk.”

I whimpered, and perhaps sucked my thumb a second or two. I might be 40 years removed from the cold, steel door of the principal’s office, but my name sizzling over a loudspeaker still freezes my insides into a Burt-cicle.

Fright always shook my frame when my name squawked over the school speaker. I’d be doodling the Batman logo with fangs in my notebook when PA static sliced right though the teacher’s droning about the Lewis and Clark field trip or dangling adjectives or something:

“Burton Cole, please report to the principal’s office.”

The classroom would erupt with hoots and snickers. “Oooh, what did you do? You’re in big trouble now. Can I have your lunch if you don’t come back?” And that was just the teacher. My classmates were worse.

Next came the long, lonely march down the empty hallway. The pounding of my footsteps reverberated off the lockers. Or maybe it was the pounding of my heart.

I’d wipe a tear from my cheek before pushing on the office door. I gulped and shuffled to the counter. “I’m here to, uh, to, uh … I didn’t do it!”

The secretary would grin — or possibly cackle — as she’d slide a fabric clump across the countertop. “You forgot your gym shorts again. Your mom sent them in, along with some clean underwear. You can take them back to your class now.”

I’d stare at the clothes. “Is this going to show up on my permanent record?”

I guess I’ve never recovered from the horrors of school days. Every time my name splutters across a loudspeaker, I cower.

The PA at the local library crackled again, snapping me back to the clear and present danger: “Burton Cole, please come to the front desk.”

I took a deep breath. OK, the library can’t slap me with detention. And I was pretty sure Mom hadn’t sent gym shorts and clean underwear to the checkout desk.

I crawled from under the table and shuffled the long, lonely march down the corridor of novels. “I’m here to, uh, to, uh … I didn’t do it!”

“Exactly.” The librarian waved a box that looked suspiciously like the recorded book I’d returned minutes earlier. “This feels a little light. Do you want to guess why it feels light?”

“My dog ate it?” I gulped. “Oh, wait, it’s in the car. Do I need a pass?”

She handed me the empty box. I scurried to the parking lot, grabbed the missing Playaway, and beat it back into the building.

The librarian greeted me with another box that looked suspiciously like the DVD I’d also returned minutes earlier. “This one’s a little light, too. You want to guess why it’s a little light?”

I wiped a tear from my cheek. “Is this going on my permanent record?”

“Only if you don’t bring back the DVD.”

I took the box. “If I throw in my lunch money and push you on the swings at recess, will you stop blasting my name over the PA system?”

You would think that a librarian would know better than to chortle that loudly in a library. I’m thinking of reporting her to the principal’s office.

— Copy off of Cole’s paper at or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.