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,
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
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
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.....