6/26/2007

Catching up with Mr. Benz

Greetings, dear readers. I’d like to try something different with today’s post. Usually I write an irreverent essay or a collection of bullet-marked musings. I often employ hyperbole or deliberate absurdity for comedic effect. But today, I’d instead like to memorialize my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Benz. I got to thinking about him, his classroom and that formative year of my life, and at once it struck me that my recollections would make a great weblog post. So enjoy these anecdotes and remembrances of Mr. Benz. And please know that every word of what I wrote here is true. I have not exaggerated or embellished for effect.

• Every Friday, we’d place our names into a coffee can and draw to determine where we’d sit the following week. Then we’d slide our desks about the room to our new position. Mr. Benz took great delight when by luck of the draw, kids who despised one another were seated together (there were several notorious rivalries between students). The seating shuffle was great fun.
Sexual innuendo was constant. In fact, it wasn’t always innuendo; it was often explicit. For example, our SRA testing booklets would often fold into each other in storage. As he passed them out, he would announce who was “inside” whom to squirms and laughter from the class.
• Among the constant sexual innuendo was a class discussion on the nudity and adult themes of the movie, The Blue Lagoon. Other movies and actors were subjects for discussion vis a vis sexuality.
• Mr. Benz once informed the class that he and his wife slept in the nude. This appalled some students, who at their tender age surely believed pajamas were standard attire for the civilized world.
• Every Friday, we’d play 2 games of dodgeballin the classroom. We’d move all the desks to the periphery of the room. We’d line up along the blackboard. Then he’d take potshots at us with a 4-square ball. He targeted the genitalia. I’m not kidding. When an unfortunate soul caught one in the crotch, the class erupted in laughter. It happened every damn game. For the second game, you couldn’t dodge the ball. You were obligated to catch it. An interesting twist on this classic game. Of course, the ball would often penetrate the phalanx of kids and strike the blackboard, leaving a print in the chalk dust. We’d preserve the prints for the rest of the day. Battle scars.
• Benz was a staunch anti-Communist. This was 1981-82, the zenith of the Cold War and Reagan’s nuclear arms race. He kept us abreast of our nuclear capabilities (Star Wars, the MX strategic missile project, etc.), and the ambitions of the Red Chinese. He cautioned us that the overpopulated Chinese wouldn’t mind losing a few hundred million people and that this disposition left them trigger-happy for nuclear war. Shrewd military analysis.
Politics was often the subject matter of the day. He criticized a Chicagoland police agency for recalling badges that read “policeman” and replacing them with the PC term “police person.”
• This shocks me to remember. One day, a kid responded to one of Mr. Benz’s statements with, “Say what?" (About this time, “Say what?” was a bit of ghetto speak enjoying popularity on the playgroud.) Mr. Benz pointed an angry finger at the perpetrator and reprimanded through clenched teeth, “I don’t have any little black kids in this class room. Speak properly.” Holy crap, huh? Don’t start hitting the emergency speed dial button to the ACLU. This was 25 years ago and Mr. Benz has long since retired and is likely dead.
• Classrooms often work themselves up into a frenzy. Ours was no exception. When Mr. Benz failed to recapture our attention with verbal coaxing, he’d stop talking, produce a large, green whistle from his desk drawer, and blow like gangbusters until the class fell silent. This happened once or twice per day and never failed to produce the desired results.
• Mr. Benz ran a gambling ring from his desk. Only instead of US currency, he brokered in candy. All kids were welcome to bet candy on professional sporting events. We could bet whatever quantity of candy we liked, and the house (Mr. Benz) would cover all bets. He kept an inventory of candy in his desk drawer. He logged all bets in a ledger once both parties agreed on an equitable exchange of candy goodies. If you lost, you lost. He’d have none of that be-magnanimous-and-give-the-candy-back-to-the-kid-because-he-learned-a-valuable-lesson-about-gambling crap.
• Fridays were also dress-up days. You weren’t obligated to dress-up. It was optional. However, those who dressed up enjoyed the privilege of chewing gum in class. Chewing gum in class is the 5th grade equivalent of skinny dipping at the Playboy Mansion. Mr. Benz warned us that if he caught us chewing gum while we weren’t dressed up, the perpetrator would have to stick the parcel of gum on his or her nose, where it would remain for the remainder of the day. He made good on this threat on at least one occasion. For that day, Scott S. was the object of ridicule.
• He would time individual work and testing to coincide with the daily Paul Harvey talk radio broadcast. We’d all listen to the radio as we worked quietly at our desks. Often, Paul Harvey’s broadcast would prompt discussions on society or politics.
• Benz remembered the older siblings of his current students. He once joked with a student that he (Mr. Benz) would buy marijuana cigarettes and other illicit drugs from students’ older brothers on the playground. “Yeah, you’re brother was out there selling. A buck a stick.” He often regaled us with anecdotes of prior students, especially those involving older siblings of current students.
Drug innuendo was part of the culture, too. Should a student exhibit strange behavior, talk gibberish or give an odd answer, Mr. Benz would ask whether he had been smoking “funny cigarettes.” Benz accounted most peculiarities to “funny cigarettes.” Always with the funny cigarettes.
• Parent teacher conferences brought Benz and kids’ mothers together for an afternoon each quarter. Those of us with attractive moms (I was one) would hear about it in class.
• He’d often commission contests of physical prowess between students. For example, wrist wrestling and Indian leg wrestling. The class would observe as two 5th graders battled for dominance. Sometimes class was like that movie, Gladiator.
• He also facilitated battles of wits. He organized multiplication table races in which pairs of students would race to answer multiplication. He also had that baby toy where you have to insert differently shaped objects through a plastic box. He timed us. The lowest time had bragging rights.
• He introduced us to “horse racing,” a contest in which boys would visit the public restroom, line up, and on cue run to a urinal, where each would urinate as quickly as possible. He who left the stall first was the winner. He asked that when we horse race that we finish our business before we leave the stall.
• Mr. Benz would encourage the class to collectively rate each student – not on academic performance or quality of character, but on sexual attractiveness. We’d rate each other on a scale from 1 to 10. I’m proud to report I got a couple of 10s in my day, on account of the corduroy jeans I’d wear on dress-up Fridays (above). Those powder blue babies never let me down.
• Mr. Benz conducted a class exercise in which he solicited from us students those attributes desirable in a future spouse. He wrote our answers on the blackboard. Then we prioritized them. One smart-ass kid, the one who had the gum applied to his nose, named “boobs” as an important trait. Benz obliged they kid, writing “chest” on the board to the oohs and ahhs of the students.

I could go on, but I think I’ve given you an adequate dose of Mr. Benz. The above is only a fraction of my memories of the man.

So what do you think of ole Mr. Benz, people? Is he Teacher of the Year, or public enemy #1? All I know is, he’s damn lucky he taught in those decades before political correctness.

48 comments:

ADW said...

Hey thanks for stopping by. It seems to me that Mr. B made learning fun and exciting and here you are many years later still talking about it.... So, not-PC? Sure. But who was back then anyway and he seems like he was a helluva teach.

Mo said...

Wow. What a teacher.

Sassy Blondie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sassy Blondie said...

LBB-This post concerns me as an educator! I can't believe this guy could hold a job...even in 1982! Telling the class he and the missus sleep nude? Buying drugs? WTF? He was the one on funny cigarettes...he was batshit crazy! lol Where the hell did you live, LBB? Mars? I like the seating shuffle though.

This post concerns me on so many levels...to think I got written up once for saying, "Crap!" in class. I need a drink...

Paul said...

Amazing how much things have changed, isn't it. It was fun growing up in the 80's though. I wouldn't want to have to go throught that now.

Rick said...

Damn. In the fifth grade? That explains the therapy...

snowelf said...

I have an instructor right now who is just like him and I adore him. Of course, I am way too liberal, sometimes.

I bet you all learned a lot of life lessons in there... Though I have to say, now as a parent, I like my educators a little less racist and a little more professional!! :)

--snow

Mim said...

Mr. B sounds like the best teacher ever. Sure, some of his teaching practices were a bit taboo, even for the 1980's, but everyone has had or should have had such a teacher.

Blogarita said...

You've shared your memories, and although you don't say so, I get the feeling they are fond memories.

And I'll bet you learned a lot, academically, that year as well.

The teachers I remember most fondly, and who had the most profound affect on me, were like Mr. Benz. Maybe a little too liberal, a little to brash, certainly a bit untraditional, and probably a bit unethical. Oh, and a hell of a lot of fun.

I think I would've liked him.

Edgy Mama said...

Wait, I'm still stuck on you being in 5th grade in 1982! That's when I graduated high school. Yowza.

Cynic with Flair said...

I was drawn to your blog because of your incredibly cool moniker, so thanks for letting me visit.

I enjoyed this post on so many levels. Mr. Benz was out of bounds in many ways, but he was real. You remembered him, and like Blogarita said, you had fond memories of him. That's what makes a good teacher, regardless of the methods he or she uses.

I wrote similarly about a teacher I enjoyed, Mrs. Waldron, who displayed students' examples of bad spelling and grammar on an overhead projector in her class and made active fun of them. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed her class. Like Mr. Benz, she inspired me in ways that were not socially acceptable. I think Mr. Benz took a lot of time and effort to keep the kids interested - the dressing up to chew gum is a great example - and that says a lot about the man.

Crazy Me said...

Oh man, dodgeball. I have memories about this game from when I was a kid ... shudder

Peter said...

Great story, Great teacher.

Lyvvie said...

How can you remember all that? I'm astonished! I can't even remember my 5th grade teacher's name - but I do remember losing a back tooth to a Sugar Baby, and spelling Massachusetts correctly in spelling challenge. and the kids across from me had an orange striped top like Ernie.


Yeah that's about it. You're amazing.

Vengelyne said...

Ah... so that's all the fun I'm missing out on by not being educated in the US of A.

P/S: I'll be changing my profile pic soon just cause of the resemblance you mentioned between Michelle Malkin and I. Not that I'm insulted, but I think she's quite a babe in certain photos.

~gkw said...

This was a great post! It explains a lot about you! LOL

I'm withholding judgement on the teacher. It sounds like the students had a good time and I believe that they learned a lot through some of the techniques.. It sounds like it was never boring!

What did YOU think of his class??

mist1 said...

You could chew gum in class? That's crazy.

NWJR said...

I understand why you are the way you are a lot better now, LBB.

Jenni said...

Damn. The only thing I remember about my 5th Grade teacher was the fact that she smoked like a chimney and couldn't finish a sentance without hacking up some sort of tobacco goo into a kleenex.

Eew.

Becky said...

Sounds like he might be cool except for seeming like a pedofile.

Oh great One said...

You had to get dressed up then he'd peg you with a ball from across the room? I bet gum went flying on more than one occasion.

WOW. I'd like to say how times have changed but I can't ever remember a teacher like that. He'd be burned at the stake today!

Jeannie said...

Off the wall teachers are always the best. My grade 3 and 6 teachers did a lot of crazy stuff - some of which would not be allowed today which is really too bad because it was hilarious and not at all traumatic. However, there was no sexual innuendos whatsoever. Of course it was still the 60's and s-e-x was still in the revolutionary phase.

Jenny! said...

I wish we had teachers that could do those things now...gambling teaches so many life long lessons! And kids should know it was okay to sleep nude!

Memphis Steve said...

Man, they'd arrest him today. He sounds sort of like my 12th grade history teacher, except that my teacher spent most of his spare energies focusing on the hot 18-year-old girls, which I can't say I blame him for. In 5th grade, my teachers were militant feminists and one was a black militant on top of the feminism. To their dismay, we were assigned a student teacher for part of the year. She just happened to be the current reigning Miss Alabama, too. Talk about boobs! She was hot!

It's Me... Maven said...

This reminded me of my high school sociology teacher, "Connie," of whom was known to utter the phrase, "our little brown brethren."

random moments said...

*gasp* I am so going to steal this idea. Of course, mine wouldn't be nearly as funny or as shocking!

For some reason I imagine this teacher to look like that older actor who played Willy Wonka...

Superstar said...

I was ROBBED!!!

I seriously was robbed. My 4th grade teacher's daughter was in our class. She picked her nose with out a tissue and ATE IT!!!!

*shivers*

Although, maybe not.
~puts antibacterial gel on hands~

Michelle said...

Back then Mr. Benz would have been the greatest teacher alive, maybe even so today with the right group of kids, but a parents nightmare.
Very few teachers make an impression as Mr. Benz did with you, I am sure that he would be proud to read this that or praying that no own sue's.

Scottsdale Girl said...

Abreast
Boobs
Chest

3 titty references...NICE!

CruiserMel said...

Ahhh, light blue cords (Levi's right?).....I would've certainly given you a 10 for those. Good times.

MONA said...

your Merc Benz was sure a mower!!!

See? I 'honor' him by calling him a Merc!

LOL @ skinny dip at playboy's mansion!

Horse racing at urinal! Boy he was kind! I am sooo glad he was not herse trading!!!

Crotch Cricket! Yayy! he invented something new!

gambling ring! he was tachong you stock market trading! Wow! wht a novel method to teach them young! USE CANDY.. a child understand its 'value'!

Funny Cigis? merc Benz was sure 'familiar' with the effects! Personal experience I guess!

contest of physical poweress! Man! he was teaching you Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest!

attractive mom! He sure had an eye for aesthetics! & was a conneisieur!

attractive boys! Ditto!

remebering the sibling! Oh what a hard disk memeory! I envy him!

green whistle! SAY WHAT! he sure did want to be a policeman! I thought as much!

slept in nude with wife! werent there audio visual teaching clases to demonstrate then??

seating arrangement! he was teaching you to be tolerant of enemy! my how admirable.. teach them young again!

ME! a good defence lawyer for Merc Benz

You! Well taught by Benz so that you could laugh it out in the end!

HAIL .....????

Webmiztris said...

omg! I can't believe you're not making this stuff up! especially the buying joints on the playground one! oh boy, those sure were the days. *sigh*

MONA said...

YAAAYYY! LBB VISITED ME!!!!

Miss Cellania said...

So many teachers were like that (except I wasn't in school in the eighties -but the sixties and 70s were pretty wild, too). I remember a few myself. I'm sure the kids survived the shenanigans just fine EXCEPT that rating the kids on attractiveness business. A low score could scar a girl for life.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I recently added a news widget from www.widgetmate.com to my blog. It shows the latest news, and just took a copy and paste to implement. Might interest you too.

Shoshana said...

Wow, I have lots of cool teachers but not that cool.

Thanks for sharing your Mr. Benz with us. I think in those times, he would be teacher of the year. Of course, those who hated him will rate accordingly. He sounds like a fun teacher though...although I am not too sure I'd want to be in his class.

Kanoff said...

O Casamento do Sol

Dizem que em certo tempo desejou o Sol de se casar, e todas as gentes, agravadas disso, se foram queixar a Júpiter, dizendo: - Que no Estio trabalhosamente sofriam um Sol, que com seus raios os abrasava, donde inferiam e provavam, que se o Sol casasse e viesse a ter filhos, queimaria o mundo todo; porque um Sol faria Verão calmoso na Índia, outro em Grécia, outro na Noruega e terras setentrionais; pelo que sendo todas as três zonas tórridas, não teriam as gentes onde viver. Visto isto por Júpiter, mandou que não casasse.

(Esopo, Fábulas, vertidas do grego por Manuel Mendes)

Chunks said...

I had a seventh grade teacher named Mrs. Brown who at the time, was having an affair with the dad of one of the girls in my class. She broke yardsticks over desks every single day and threw egg timers at this kid named Troy. She was on the edge.

If a teacher did that sort of crap these days, they would be tarred and feathered. Or get their own reality show, depending on who their publicist was.

He made an impression on you (although some would question the KIND of impression!) and that is what makes a good teacher.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Teacher of not just one year but of Many.

Riss said...

Oh man I wish I had Mr. Benz as a teacher, he freaking sounded fun as hell!

Damsel Underdressed said...

Hahahaha. A few of my teachers came to mind as I was reading this. Aren't you glad that we don't go to school now? Of course, my teachers were more in high school and not fifth grade!

I think ole Mr. Benz made going to school fun and kids probably couldn't wait to get there. Plus, he got you to dress up on a Friday? Kudos to Mr. Benz!

Chick said...

Sounds like your nudie teach was lots of fun.

Ari said...

Do you suppose on Mr. Benz's employment application it said "teacher" or "ringmaster"??? As my principal always says, kids WILL learn. But what???

ARM said...

5th grade? Really? This is really all true??? And I thought my 10th grade biology teacher telling us all to shut up at the top of his lungs and sneaking out the back door to smoke a cigarette was crazy.

ghoti said...

omg i think your mister benz was my 6th grade teacher mister brown. my mister brown was awesome. he'd pay us to sweep the classroom, on fridays we'd listen to old time radio (our miss brooks, the shadow [knows], etcetera) and eat long johns cause we had a standing order with the krispy kreme man. we'd have kissing contests - you know, amongst the students but with scores and prizes - and there was the infamous Row 1 where rambunctious students had to sit without talking or getting up, but if that didn't work, he'd draw a small circle on the chalk board and make you stand there with your nose in it for awhile. he had a big scary ass-smackin' paddle for the boys and a wee mighty mouse hand-smackin' paddle for the girls (he took the attached rubber band with the attached rubber ball off of it). he also had a whistle for gettin our attention and he was notorious for ALMOST saying "ass", "damn", "hell", and "shit"... and there's so much more stuff like this. i LOVED him. he let me skip 7th grade and put me straight into 8th. :D

incidentally, i kinda think that "teacher" and "ringmaster" are a tad synonymous up to a certain age.

phlegmfatale said...

Mr. Benz was definitely bent. Funny, though. SOunds like it was fun to be in that class.

Dave Morris said...

I am a fan of mr benz...

I remember a teacher of mine who hated gum chewing... If you got caught, youd write "chewing gum like an animal is unbecoming to human beings."

Little Wing said...

Mr. Benz benz the rules!