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There was a new teacher on faculty my sophomore year in high school.  Her name was Ms. Wasserbauer, and she was hired to be the German language teacher.  I’m not sure what happened to the old German language teacher.  Maybe he left or maybe the school needed a second teacher because of the amount of students enrolled in German class.  I don’t really know.  I didn’t take German.  But Ms. Wasserbauer also taught World History, and I was in that class.

At the start of the first class of the year with this woman, she introduced herself.  “Hallo und begrüßt meine Klasse. Mein Name ist Frau Wasserbauer, und ich bin aufgeregt, um Sie als meine Studenten zu haben.”

Everyone in the class just kind of looked at her in silence.  We all wore the same expression on our face.  You know the one:  that confused look with polite smile that says “OK, this is strange.  What the fuck is going on here?”

Ms. Wasserbauer spoke again.  ”Verstehen Sie mich nicht? Nicht?”

Another awkward silence permeated the room.

Then, badly acting as though she reached an epiphany, Ms. Wasserbauer said, “Oh my.  This isn’t my German class.  This is World History.  I apologize.  Let me start over.  Hello and welcome to my class.  My name is Frau Wasserbauer and I am excited to have you all as my students.  Before I learn your names, I’d like to tell you about mine.  I am of German descent and my name, Wasserbauer, means ‘water farmer.’  Even though this is not German class, I would like you all to address me as Frau Wasserbauer.”

It was painfully obvious, even to a 15 year old, what she was trying to do:  Start with a joke in order to warm up the audience.    The only thing was, this wasn’t particularly clever or natural.  And it fell very flat.

I don’t know what her experience as a teacher was, but she did not come across as a teacher who knew how to handle a class of 28.  It felt like she was a substitute teacher and her class was just something to do before going to the next, real class.  And it continued to have that kind of feel for the whole year. 

One fine day in World History class, she asked us to put our notebooks away and get our textbooks out because we were going to read and talk about Darwin and the theory of evolution.  As I put my textbook on my desk, I noticed my pen cap was in the groove at the top of the desk.  I grabbed it to put it on my pen which should have been in my bookbag, but I couldn’t find it.  I moved the books this way and that and I tried to feel around underneath them but no luck.  I became so engrossed in locating my pen that everything else became secondary.  I felt my pockets and looked around on the floor before returning to the bookbag on the floor.  I took the notebooks and books out one by one looking for the pen, and I was vaguely aware that the teacher was talking about the lesson but at that moment I was all about locating my pen.   I continued to dig around in my book bag, and checked the small zippered compartment on the side.  I looked all around my desk and felt my pockets again.

“MISTER WARE!”

My attention was jolted back to the classroom and I slowly straightened up in my chair.  “Yes?”

“Perhaps *you* would like to explain the theory of evolution to the class?”

Now…I hardly did any extra-curricular activities during my 4 years of high school.  For me, it was enough to just be there for 6 hours each day.  School newspaper, debate team, band, student union, student council…I didn’t do any of it.  On several occasions, the gym teacher had suggested that I think about trying out for the track team or the baseball team but I never entertained the idea for even a minute.  The time that I had between dismissal and sleep was mine and I didn’t want to abandon it by continuing to be associated with school for several hours after classes.

However, I *was*in the drama club my sophomore year.  I got involved with that because my girlfriend was in it and, like all that are young and “in love”, I thought it would be fun to hang around with her as much as possible.  They play we did that fall, which a few of my Facebook Friends were also in, was “Inherit The Wind.”  If you’re not familiar with the play, it is a fictional account based on the Scopes Monkey Trial, which resulted in a teacher’s conviction for teaching evolution to a high school science class, which was against Tennessee state law.   I was cast in the role of “Howard”, one of the students who had been exposed to the lessons of “eviloution.”  At one point in the play, my character was put on the witness stand to testify as to what he was taught.

Without missing a beat, I confidently answered Ms. Wasserbauer with my lines from the play.  “Well, at first the earth was too hot for any life.  Then it cooled off a mite, and cells and things begun to live.  Cells are little bugs like, in the water.  After that, the little bugs got to be bigger bugs, and sprouted legs and crawled up on the land.  All this took a couple million years.  Maybe even longer.  Then came the fishes and the reptiles and the mammals.  Man’s a mammal.”

People laughed and Ms. Wasserbauer’s face became a shade of red that I’ve never seen in any box of Crayola crayons.  She screamed and stormed out of the room, slamming the door and breaking the transom window above it as she departed.

An unspoken directive seemed to permeate the classroom.  Surely someone some other member of the faculty was going to come to the room and it would be very bad if we were out of control and having “social hour” after what just happened.  So, when Sister Collette entered the room she found a room full of quiet students silently working on class assignments as if it were a study hall.

Sister Collette was an old woman. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all to one day hear, during morning announcements, the sad news that she passed away over the weekend†.  She was rail-thin and had a staccato pattern of speech, each word being clear and distinct.

She surveyed the room a moment before asking the class, “What.  Happened.  Here?”

I raised my hand an offered the explanation.  “She asked me to explain the Theory of Evolution to the class.  I did.  And then she ran out.”

Several of the other students in the class confirmed my explanation and Sister Collette said, “Treat.  The.  Remainder.  Of.  This.  Class.  As.  A.  Study.  Hall…..Work.  On.  Something.  Quietly.”

She sat at the desk to supervise us for the remainder of the period.  I don’t know if Ms. Wasserbauer resumed her teaching duties for the other scheduled classes that day, or if those classes became study halls.  But she did return the following day.  I was amazed that she never addressed the incident in any way, shape or form.  Not to the class.  Not to me.  She behaved as if it never happened.  This, I suppose, was the best way to handle it.

I never had her for a teacher again after sophomore year.  To be honest, I don’t even know if she returned the following year or not.  But I’ll never forget the water farmer.

†As of this writing, Sister Collette is still employed at the school and working in the Alumni Office.

For as long as I can remember, there has been a fireworks display every July 4 at Ault Park.  The park was about a mile away from my childhood home and we would walk up to it every year.  It was great, because we could leave the house about an hour before the big event and not have to worry about finding  a good spot to park or have to stake out an area on the field.   And, even better than that, we never had to worry about fighting the traffic after the event was over.

In 1980, when I was 10 years old, I was invited to go with a classmate, Barbara, and her family.  They lived further away and had planned on making a day of it.  We left their house at 3pm, drove up to the general area, and parked about a quarter of a mile away.  I remember walking, each of us carrying an aluminum folding lawn chair and her parents carrying the blue plastic cooler between them.

I don’t remember actually arriving at and staking out our position on the lawn in the mall of the park.  I *do* remember being kind of upset because we couldn’t get to the playground because that portion of the park was blocked off for firework setup.  Barbara and I had to make our own fun.

We walked around other areas of the park and explored a little bit of the woods.  But the coolest thing, by far, was climbing the big wall of rock.  Barbara was too afraid to climb it so she stayed up at the top of the wall at the end of the mall and looked down at me as I climbed up.  I must’ve climbed that wall 7 or 8 times that day.  Until I fell off.

I had reached the summit and reached over the top of the wall to help pull myself up.  I must have grabbed a patch of moss or something because my hand slipped and I fell backward.  I landed on my feet and crouched into a summersault to roll with the impact.  Unfortunately, I smacked my face into my knees and cut my left thigh on a piece of broken glass that littered the ground at the base of the wall.

So there I was with a nose bleed and a two-inch cut on my thigh with a small part of muscle protruding out of it.  Barbara and I walked back to our spot in the mall on the lawn and her dad took one look at it and said, “You’re going to need stitches.  Let’s go find the police.”  We left Barbara and her mom and went in search of civil servants, which did not take long at all.

Apparently, the cut on my left was bad enough for the police to offer us a ride to the hospital, as the surrounding streets were closed off and we would be unable to drive the car even if we went to it.  So, Barbara’s dad and I were loaded into the back of a police cruiser and we were taken to a hospital.  On the way there, the police called dispatch who in turn, called my parents and told them which hospital I was going to.

I don’t remember how long it took to get there or even arriving at the hospital.  My next clear memory is sitting on a table getting a local anesthetic injected into my leg for the stitching.  My dad arrived and he came back to the room and talked with Barbara’s dad while the doctor stitched up my leg.  After everything was taken care of, we gave Barbara’s dad a ride back to the park.  We got him as close as we could before letting him out to walk the rest of the way.  My dad and I stopped at United Dairy Farmers for a chocolate ice cream in a sugar cone before heading home.

I didn’t get to see the fireworks that night.  And, to be honest, I wasn’t upset by that.  I was more worried about Barbara’s dad getting back to his family in time so they could all see the fireworks together.  I felt absolutely terrible inside.  Thankfully, after they had gotten home from the fireworks, Barbara’s mom called to see how I was and I learned that her dad made it back just in time.

Every time I pass that wall in Ault Park, I’m rocketed back to the moment where I got up off the ground and look down to see a part of my thigh muscle sticking out of my leg.  And I remember, clear as day, the sickness I felt while worrying that Barbara’s dad wouldn’t make it back in time.

When I was a kid I worried (a lot) that someone would break in to our house at night and I would be kidnapped.  I have no idea why I felt this way.  This was in the late 70’s…before Adam Walsh and before “I Know My First Name Is Steven”…and I can’t recall anything that would have sparked this fear.  While most kids avoided nighttime monsters by hiding completely under their monster repellant covers, I was worried about burglars ransacking our house and thinking that I would be a better haul than my mom’s jewelry.  I would have two pillows under the covers on either side of me as some sort of camouflage effort to make it appear as though there wasn’t a little boy in the bed.

There was one person that I was particularly afraid of: a villain from a movie who had no remorse, no concept of mercy, and would take what he wanted by any means necessary.  General Zod.

I remember kneeling on floor of my bedroom, staring for hours at a picture of General Zod in my Superman II Movie Book, committing the image to memory in case I ever saw him on the street and thinking, “There’s nothing I can do to stop him.”   The fact that he was a movie character never broke though my fear.  Why General Zod, who was bent on destroying Superman and ruling the world, would even need me…for anything…is just ridiculous.  But it didn’t seem so ridiculous back then.

As much of an impact the movie Star Wars had on me, and as much as Darth Vader deservers to be #1 on TimesOnline 50 Best Movie Villains List, it was General Zod who haunted a portion of my childhood.

Here’s a little story that will explain just how familiar I am with alcoholic drinks.

A while ago, my wife and I were invited out for dinner and drinks at Newport on the Levee.

For those who don’t know, Newport on the Levy is an entertainment complex that played a HUGE part in turning Newport, KY from “Cincinnati’s asshole” to one of the happening places to be. Newport, KY has done what Cincinnati has failed to do time and time again: turn their downtown area into someplace people want to go.

Anyway, we had never been to Newport on the Levee and we don’t normally get to go out and do stuff with friends all that much because the kids are involved in scouts, soccer, scouts, baseball, ballet, and basketball.  But we found a Friday night where we weren’t busy, dropped the kids off for a sleepover at Grandma’s, and we went to this place at Newport on the Levee called Jefferson Hall.

We sat down and ordered out drinks.  I ordered a Coke, my wife ordered a water, and the couple that we were with ordered beers.  My wife’s water and our friends’ beers came in these big 32 ounce plastic cups, but mine arrived in a 6-ounce glass tumbler.  I thought, “Well that’s odd. Surely, beer is more expensive than Coke, so why are their cups so much larger than mine? What a thing to skimp on.” On top of that, my drink came with a little swizzle straw. I thought, “OK, small glass, small straw.” I sucked a mouthful of drink through it and instantly thought, “Ugh, their Coke syrup isn’t working, it’s just carbonated water.” Then I swallowed, and it all became clear. I pushed it to the center of the table and proclaimed, “That isn’t Coke.”

I called the waitress back and explained that I hadn’t gotten what I ordered.  She asked, “Didn’t you order a rum and Coke?”

“No, just a Coke.”  I seriously kicked around the idea of pretending I was a recovering alcoholic and everything was now ruined, but I didn’t think I could pull it off.  We got it all straightened out and she brought me just a Coke, but that god-awful taste would not leave my mouth.  Even through the popcorn shrimp, the bacon cheese fries, the onion rings, and the ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery…that taste just would not go away.

I was getting closer and closer to vomiting and I needed to go home.  We said our good-byes and my wife drove while I was concentrating on not yakking everywhere.  Once we arrived home, I raced to the bathroom, slapped a big dollop of AquaFresh on my toothbrush and brushed my teeth for like 20 minutes.

God, it was awful.

Did anyone ever give you a nickname that upset you?

When I was little, there was a kid who lived up the street from me. His name was Donald Barrett. Donald and his little brother, Nick, were good friends of mine. It’s weird, but I can’t recall much of anything that we did TOGETHER, except for football or wiffle-ball in the front yard. I spent time with Nick, pretending to be a DJ as we listened to rock n roll records, swimming at the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s pool in Oakley, or shooting pool in his basement. I spent time with Donald playing with Star Wars figures, playing on the same baseball team (go Tom-E-Hawks) or pretending we were the band and singing along with the albums The Monkees and More of the Monkees.

I can’t remember the circumstances that led up to it but, one day, Donald called me a “baby chocolate cake.” And I swear you could hear the scratching sound of a record needle as the entire world came to a sudden and abrupt halt. There was about 3 seconds of complete and utter silence. And then I started crying. Somehow, this was so much worse than “dork” or “idiot” or “dumb bell.” Me? A baby chocolate cake? Really? Oh no! No no no NO!!!!!!!!

I don’t remember Donald leaving, although I’m sure he hightailed it outta there. I don’t remember how long I cried, but it felt like hours. I do remember that I was inconsolable as I sat in my mom’s lap and cried into her shoulder. It took some time for me to be able to explain what had happened because I would completely fall apart before I could get the words “baby chocolate cake” out of my mouth.

“And then he…::sniff::…and the he called…::deep breath::…and then he called me a babbbbbbwwaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Eventually I calmed down. Eventually I told her what happened. And eventually I got over it because, after all, it was just an isolated incident. But that’s not how kids are. Despite how good friendships are, kids know how to push other kids’ buttons and they’ll do it with or without any reason.

Over time, Donald’s insult graduated into something more than a simple name-calling. It became a taunt, whose sole purpose was to get a rise out of me. The singsong lilt of “Kevin is a baby chocolate caaaake” never once failed to make me cry my eyes out.

In 1980, when I was 10 years old and in the fourth grade, the movie The Empire Strikes Back was released. I spilled the beans to Donald that (SPOILER ALERT!) Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. He hadn’t seen the movie yet and he was mad at me. And rightly so! After all, that revelation eventually landed on Premiere magazine’s list of the 25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History.

I don’t know if that what was caused it but, after that, Donald and I didn’t hang around much anymore. “Kevin is a baby chocolate caaaake” it seemed, had simply disappeared. A couple years later, Donald graduated from 6th grade and moved on to 7th at Walnut Hills Jr. /Sr. High School. I moved onto 6th grade and, upon graduation, went to St. Mary for Junior High.

After completing 8th grade at St. Mary, I attended Purcell-Marian High School. It was there, in my freshman year, that I first met Dave VanBenschoten. A fellow freshman, we became acquainted through a mutual friend that I knew from St. Mary. I initially found him to be a bit odd due to his intelligence, but a sense of humor and a shared appreciation for Star Trek helped us become friends.

During my sophomore year and by way of my girlfriend at the time, I met Paul Findsen. He was a junior and quite possibly the tallest person I’d ever met who was also within my peer group. Possessed with creativity that I’m still somewhat envious of to this day, Paul had a sense of humor unlike any I’d experienced before. And he looked like David Bowie.

Paul, Dave, and I spent many a day discussing a variety of topics ranging anywhere and everywhere from Monty Python to Japanese swordplay to Star Trek. One particular day during my junior year, we were at Paul’s house when Paul told us of a computer game that he was having some trouble with. He couldn’t get past a certain point in the text-based adventure game Star Trek: The Promethean Prophecy and suggested we work together to try to figure it out.

We gathered around the computer and took turns being the captain, meaning the one in control of the keyboard and actually entering any commands. Paul was first, since it was his game and he had to familiarize us with the game. He got to The Troublesome Point in which the Enterprise is being attacked by a Romulan vessel. No matter what we tried, the enemy got the best of us and the Enterprise was destroyed. Game over.

Dave was next. Again, everything was fine and dandy up until The Troublesome Point where, despite several more suggestions from Paul and me, the Romulan enemy was victorious (again).

Finally, it was my turn. We wasted no time in getting to the Troublesome Point. The three of us reviewed past actions taken and didn’t thoughtlessly react to the events on the screen. During the battle, Spock reports the presence of a “data image” moving in conjunction with the enemy vessel. Paul suggested we fire torpedoes at the mysterious image. I typed the command into the computer and Lo! And Behold…the Romulan enemy was destroyed. From our excitement, you would have thought we had just cured cancer.

About a month or so later, Dave and I were sitting next to each other at work passing funny notes and drawings back and forth. The movie Spaceballs had recently been released and had us in the mindset of creating parodies of Star Wars and Star Trek. I liked the Eagle 5 (Winnebago spacecraft) from Spaceballs and I asked Dave, who was artistically inclined, to draw a picture of my car, a Volkswagen Beetle, with Star Trek warp engines attached to it. He did and gave it the following caption: Commanded by B.C. Cakes, the USS Entropy boldly goes where no man has gone before.

I don’t ever remember telling Dave about “baby chocolate cake” but, clearly, I must have. At first I was all, “Dude! What the fuck, man? Baby Chocolate Cakes?” but he thought it was fun and that I should get over it.

“Why not? Make it something other than some sort of dirty label.”

So that’s what I did. Paul and Dave and I created an entire Star Trek parody universe, complete with 15 short stories, another 5 that are unfinished, several illustrations, and even a soundtrack, revolving around the crew of the USS Entropy under the command of B.C. Cakes.

The name has branched out into other areas as well. B.C. Cakes is my login name on certain website forums and blogs. It’s also my I.D. in the multiplayer online game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Twenty years ago, Dave was right in re-saddling me with that name. With the help of some good friends, I was able to take ownership of it and define it instead of it defining me. It’s funny how a name that once made me cry has become a name that I’m rather proud of.

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