Thursday, April 21, 2011

It might be called the state militia, the state troopers, or. . .the Safety Patrol!

From 5th grade on I wanted to be a "SAFETY!" I remember so well how we would say "SAFETY" with awe in our voice. "You know Jim. He's a SAFETY!" or "Careful, here comes a SAFETY!" A "safety" of course, was a member of the Safety Patrol, charged with crowd control when kids were lining up to get on their buses or to have lunch in the cafeteria. In thinking back on it, I now realize there was something minorly fascist about the organization. In fact, I think that's what I liked about it. You got to wear a sort of bandolero minus the bullets with a badge that said you were a member of the patrol. Also, you got to push kids around, and you couldn't get in trouble for it. I remember the "safeties" in our 6th class were Jim Boniface, who always got to do the responsible things, and a tall girl, whose name I have lost over the years. I imagine she was appointed for her height. I remember before Jim would go on patrol each day, which got him excused from class a couple minutes early, he would remove his safety bandolero and badge from his desk, where he had it folded up just so. I think they probably taught the safeties how to do that, kind of like how you learn to fold the flag in Cub Scouts. Jim would unwrap that white belt slowly, then strap it on, and sashay out the door, ready to do battle against the forces of pushing and running. Jim and the tall girl were good safeties. They never abused their power.

I do remember a couple of martinets, though, who flaunted their safety powers at the expense of mere kids. One was a large, mean girl, who I only encountered during the course of one week in elementary school. She was the muscle for a fat, little bus driver, who drove with an iron foot and brooked no misbehavior. For one week, the fat driver drove our bus as the mean safety stood facing the seats, glaring us all down, while our regular driver was absent for some reason. If you even spoke above a whisper, she would rumble back to your seat, pull you up by the arm, then crash you back down. This doesn't sound like much now, but the pure "elementary" violence of it frightened us. I've wondered if they were a permanent substitute driver and safety team, too mean to have their own bus run. I've also wondered if the driver and the safety were father and daughter, because they had the same pig eyes.

The other martinet was a classy one, a senior who patrolled the halls around the cafeteria, when I was in 7th grade. He was a good-looking athletic guy, who when he saw the slightest suggestion of misbehavior or the presence of someone in a hall that was closed during lunch, would dash at top speed, grab the perp by the collar, and read him the proverbial "riot act." I never got in any trouble with this senior safety, but often saw him in action, and probably thought he was pretty cool.

I can't recall the presence of safety patrol after 7th grade. Perhaps, it was a late casualty of the groundswell against Joe McCarthy and his House on Un-American Activities Committee. Seriously, I wonder if it still exists. Is there a place where the term "SAFETY" still creates awe.

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