76. I used to sneak out of Art Class in St. Mary’s High School in Sophomore year to hop over the fence, go to The Wiz and buy new music.
One of my favorite high school classes was Mrs. Fraser’s Art Class at last period. It wasn’t because I had an affinity for art (although I did like drawing). It wasn’t because Mrs. Fraser was an inspiring teacher in the mold of Mr. Holland’s Opus and Dead Poets Society. It wasn’t because of my classmates (aside from those seated at my table, I found most of them annoying). No, what I loved about Art was it was a fence hop away from the new Nobody Beats The Wiz.
My classmate Paul showed me the way. One day, he offered to take the attendance slip to the office. Once he left, he never came back. Mrs. Fraser hardly noticed. Later, I asked him what happened. Paul said that he started doing this last year and never got in trouble. Either he would come back eventually and just make up some excuse (“I was in the bathroom”) or not come back at all and by the time we had class again, Mrs. Fraser completely forgot (she was cartoonishly absent-minded). Plus, because you are submitting the attendance, she can’t mark you as absent after the fact (or didn’t care enough to do so).
I was still nervous. Paul gave me a couple of turns at it. I would bring down the attendance and come back later and later. Sometimes, I would arrange to meet up with friends who had last period off. Then I had a bright idea and hopped the fence to go to the Wiz. I would run in there, look around in the music and video game sections and head back to class.
Paul and I started to fight over who got to bring the attendance down. She would ask who wants to bring the attendance down and Paul and I would yell, “Me, Mrs. Fraser!” “No, pick me! He brought it down yesterday!” Mrs. Fraser was none the wiser. Paul just wanted to get over on the teacher but I actually had something to do. Because there wasn’t a lot of time between class ending and the bus leaving, I couldn’t go to the Wiz after class. I don’t know why but I really wanted to be the first one to listen to Nas’ Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready To Die and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. I wanted to absorb the music on the long bus ride home and by the next morning, I wanted to already have my favorite songs ready for discussion.
We had a radio with a tape player class and sometimes I would play my new tapes as soon as I got back. Some of the other kids got annoyed with my hogging of the radio to play hip-hop and ratted me out to Mrs. Fraser. I can’t remember the girl’s name but she said, “Mrs. Fraser, I think I heard a curse word on the radio.” Our table lost radio privileges but that’s what I get for trying to hear Ice Cube’s Lethal Injection while working with water colors.
This plan worked for a couple of semesters until, one afternoon, I got sloppy. One last period, Todd, Kevin and Reuel were playing basketball in front of the building in last period. Mrs. Fraser had started to get suspicious after I came back from one Wiz trip particularly sweaty so I stopped taking extended trips from class. First I brought down the attendance, ran outside for a little bit, shot the basketball then ran back to class. I waited a few minutes and then asked to go to the bathroom. I ran outside, all the guys cheered, let me shoot around some more, then I ran back inside. Without taking note of the time, I asked to grab something from my locker. I only meant to go outside for a minute but I lost track of time. In the middle of playing horse, the bell rang. People were exiting the building and I was looking for my tablemates.
“Did you grab my bookbag?!?”
I slowly made my way back to the room hoping that she had exited the class too. She was in the back closet and saw me as I was reaching for my bag. She didn’t say anything but could have burned a hole through me with the look she gave me. Luckily, she didn’t tell the principal but needless to say, I was never allowed to bring the attendance down again.
 For those who don’t know, Nobody Beats The Wiz was Best Buy before Best Buy