It was early 1992, around mid-May, when someone had the temerity to call me "a gentleman and a scholar." At the time I felt neither gentlemanly nor scholarly and responded with a unique sense of cynicism that rarely reared its ugly head in my late adolescence. I half-snorted and half-laughed, then said, "Yeah. Right. A gentleman amongst thieves and a scholar in the School of Hard Knocks." I lacked the social grace to accept praise then. Perhaps my retort was a bit harsh. My response was in reference to some annoying rumors about me that had been floating around my school for a few months prior.

The first part, "gentleman amongst thieves," got started because I was present when my cousin, a Texan redneck in the making if ever there was one, got arrested for grand theft auto. No, he didn't actually steal the car. Point in fact, he owned it. He had bought it from a Chinese family local to his part of Dallas, specifically he'd bought it from the eldest son of the family- against the father's wishes. Stephen, my cousin, drew out a payment plan that the seller agreed to and all was well. Steve had a bad patch with work, changed jobs and called the car's original owner to let him know that Steve would be 2 weeks late in making his car payment due to the fact that his first paycheck from his new job would take a while to be processed. The young Chinese man, not much older than my cousin by a few months, said that would be fine and wished Steve luck in his new job. Steve asked, twice, if there would be any late fees tacked on, and the answer was a very clear, "No, there won't be any late fees. I understand your situation and trust you. You've been good on your payments for a year now. See you in two weeks." And that was that, right?

Wrong. One night, when Steve and I were out to see a movie and just hang out, we pulled into a Taco Bell off Jim Miller Road with the intention of going through the drive-thru. We were there for all of five minutes when, out of nowhere, six police cars swarmed into the parking lot, surrounded us, cops jumped out of their cars with their guns drawn on us and we were told, in no uncertain terms, to get out with our hands up. My first reaction was to regard it as a very bad joke made in very poor taste. I mean, think about it: how clichéd can that be? "Come out with your hands up!" Shouted loudly over a 300 db police speaker in the parking lot of Taco Bell. My aunt Renee, who had just completed her training in the Dallas Police Academy, must have put these cops up to this or something. It's a prank, that's all.

Like a death knell, and I knew damn well for whom it tolled, the voice repeated the order and followed up with, "NOW!"

Naturally, Steve and I got out of the car slowly, if somewhat confused. Apparently, the father of the young Chinese man Steve was buying the car from had gotten wind of Steve's inability to make his car payment on time and notified the police that the car had been stolen. It didn't matter that Stephen had a copy of the sale agreement and the title to the car, in his name, right there in the glove box. The police were informed of a possible grand theft auto in progress and therefore had just cause to arrest my cousin until a full investigation could be launched. Luckily, they immediately realized that the whole thing was a FUBAR situation (fucked up beyond all recognition), but since Steve's name was on the report, they had no choice to take him in. Since I wasn't mentioned and seemed like a completely innocent bystander, the cops were kind enough to let me walk home on my own.... some thirty miles across town, how sweet. I watched them cart a bewildered Steve away and I called my mom to pick me up.

Somehow, word of the whole debacle got out and something like 20 different versions of the story spread around my school like a wildfire. There were varying degrees of absurdity in all of them, but the common thread in every single tale was that I was some sort of car-snatching Robin Hood who stole cars and left them in the capable hands of poor Chinese or Mexican families in the "rougher" parts of Dallas. No matter how much I rallied against these notions, I couldn't seem to convince my schoolmates that it was all bogus- even some of my closer friends didn't buy my version of the story and laughed at my "whopper of a fish tale, obviously made up to keep my ass out of jail." That I was a fairly quiet and reclusive student in school probably didn't help matters any. I had my own reasons for being recalcitrant, most of them having to do with my psychotic mother, but my peers chose to interperet my behavior as "gentlemanly." Hence: Gentleman amongst thieves.

The second bit, "a scholar in the School of Hard Knocks," was derived from a bit of (presumably) good-natured ribbing from my school mates, but it ended up making me feel even more despondent and misunderstood in a world that was tilting at odd angles for me already. You see, my school put out a magazine of sorts every year, made by the Seniors and dedicated to the graduating class (of which I was a member- Class of '92). This magazine, called "The Panther" (after the school's mascot), was filled with all kinds of Class-specific in-jokes that had developed over the year at Lake Highlands High School. For the life of me, I don't think I'll ever understand the phrase, "Jelly donuts! YES!!! JELLY DONUTS!!!" I must have skipped school on that day or something, because its relevance escapes me and always has- but I digress. In the back section of "The Panther" was a list of all the colleges each Senior had elected to attend. Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Fisk University, University of Texas at El Paso, Princeton, et al. Next to each student's name was the college of their choice. Next to mine, in glaring black letters, bold as daylight, was "Jay Seals: The School of Hard Knocks."

It was no secret that my senior year had been hell. Most everybody knew about it. Kicked out of my mother's house, driving 30 miles across town to and from school every day in my grandfather's pick-up truck (a Mazda B-2000), working two jobs and going to school, writing my first novel (still incomplete, some ten years later), country music star father (Dan Seals) and an older brother working for the United States Navy with a security clearance so high it'd make your head spin who was stationed somewhere in the Persion Gulf doing God knows what for our country. That year, and the three leading up to it, had indeed been like a prolonged tenure in the "School of Hard Knocks," but that my peers at Lake Highlands were bold enough to put it into print in such a succinct way... well... it pissed me off something fierce. I discovered who had made the decision to put that in there and told her, clearly, that I wished a pox upon her first-born. She laughed. I hope, when she has her first child (if!!), that she will give my words some consideration and ask for a pox specialist to be on call after she goes into labor.

And, so.... it was the last week of school, okay? I was standing in the hallway, just as our third-period class (Honors English III) was about to begin, and holding the door open for one of my classmates who was bolting down the hallway in an effort to beat the clock. The bell was ringing just as he pounded his Nikes through the classroom's threshold and he skidded to a stop. He turned to me and said, "Thanks, man. You're a gentleman and a scholar." This, coming from a football jock (who was also dating the girl who had announced to the world that I was a future graduate from the School of Hard Knocks), took me a bit by surprise.

I stiffened, ran a few responses around in my head (some of them, indeed, gentlemanly, but most of them rhetorical) and then decided to say what was really on my mind. "Yeah. Right. A gentleman amongst thieves and a scholar of the School of Hard Knocks." I think he visibly winced at my reply, started to say something back but thought better of it. He was easily twice my size and much higher than I on the social ladder, but I think he realized, in that moment, exactly how justified I was in my annoyance at his girlfriend for her insensitive attempt at humor at my expense. He merely nodded with understanding and class began, me taking the last seat and earning five demerits for doing so.

Many people miss their high school days. I do not. And, despite my diploma from Lake Highlands, I'm still in getting an education.....

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