Friday, August 22, 2008

Accused

Accused!

 “OK, Mr. Lazalier, tell us why you incited the food fight.”

 These words were addressed to me by Mrs. Florence Miller, the Head of the English Department at Eastern Oklahoma A&M, in the late spring of 1961.  I was in the office of Dean Gerald Williams to answer an accusation of being the ringleader in an incident that occurred in the cafeteria the previous day.

On that day I had entered the cafeteria for lunch and, as luck would have it, was standing at the end of the food line when someone decided that it was time to toss a roll at a friend.  The friend took it in good nature but thought that defense of his honor required a response.  So he tossed the first thing he could get his hands on---a container of milk.  Unfortunately, the container had been opened but was still half full.  As it arced through the air it splattered milk on several of the people under its path.  They, in turn, felt sufficiently affronted to warrant responding with their own missiles.  And the food fight was underway!

 Remember, I was standing innocently at the end of the line watching all this.  Mrs. Miller was seated at one end of the cafeteria and she stood up and attempted to quell the disturbance.  I was young and naïve and didn’t attempt to block the laughter that came from my throat.  As a matter of fact, I was greatly amused by her appearance but not in a mean way. 

 In order to understand my action you have to know something about Mrs. Miller.  She was short lady, probably in her late fifties at the time.  She wore horn-rimmed glasses and was the quintessential teacher of English.  A story, possibly apocryphal, circulated widely on the campus.  According to the story it seems that she was in the middle of a class one day and, as was her practice, began striding around the classroom.  In the middle of her excursion an exceedingly unfortunate event occurred.  To put it bluntly, her drawers fell off!  Without missing a beat or a word in her lecture she stepped out of her lost lingerie, bent over, picked them up and put them in her pocket.  No one in the class dared to laugh or make any kind of derogatory noise.  She had that kind of authority aura around her.

 Therefore, when she accused me of being a miscreant she automatically generated an overwhelming bias on the part of those who were to judge my guilt or innocence.  When I stated that I had played no part in the food fight she said, “I saw you give a signal.”  And then she asked me, “Why were you laughing so hard?”

 At that stage of my life I was not nearly as diplomatic as I am now so I replied with words to the effect of, “You were so funny standing there trying to get a hundred wild kids to stop that I just had to laugh,” and I then went on to really show how undiplomatic I was by saying, “I couldn’t help but think of the time you lost your underwear in class and that made me laugh harder.” 

 Dean Williams had been listening to all that had gone on without making any comment.  When I made the remark about underwear he almost choked himself trying to stifle a laugh.  

 Fortunately, I had an excellent reputation with Dean Williams and the faculty of EOA&M.  They conferred briefly in whispered words and then told me that I was exonerated.  Later Dean Williams told me that he really never had believed I was guilty but that anybody who was so naïve as to tell his accuser that she was funny absolutely had to be innocent.

1 Comments:

At August 23, 2008 at 5:19 PM , Blogger John Inman said...

I tell my wife all the time that I was just an 'innocent bystander'. And innocent bystanders are always getting accused of everything. Glad you're really back, you know, from your back problems.

 

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