Did I learn anything from fifth grade Safety Patrol besides “If you are going to be a dictator, first try to establish a base of supporters”? Maybe. Mostly I’m worried my confidence reached its peak level at age 10 while attending Kate Haynes Elementary School in Wichita Falls, Texas. Nothing makes you feel more confident than a bright orange vest, a notebook and the ability to get any kid in school in trouble with the principal.
I was all over the place, directing traffic, directing students, and writing up any one who dared to disobey me. I mean, it was in the name of safety, right?
I got so excited about becoming the best Safety Patrol Officer Texas had ever seen (and also about my God-like power) that I started volunteering for every possible shift so I could write up multiple kids each day. My notebook became man’s new best friend.
At the end of every shift the sixth graders chosen by teachers to run Safety Patrol would ask all of us fifth grade “officers” if we had any names of misbehaved children to report.
One day I raised my hand, like usual, and the girl dismissively said, “You always have a name.” Dismissively – as in she didn’t respect how hard I worked to create a semi police state all on my own. I was the fifth grade’s most serious officer. What a jerk.
The only other thing I remember about this girl was that one day she randomly told me about how her parents had just purchased a new Chrysler van and I looked on like I thought talking about cars was interesting. The conversation ended with her saying in her Texas accent, “That sh*t’s expensive.” I let the conversation end naturally by not saying anything, because even at age 10 I thought it was very odd that a 12 year old would have a concept of expense in terms of cars, and also I wasn’t in the habit of being friends with kids who said bad words for no reason. If my parents had bought a new car I would have said, “Cool. We got a new car.” Actually, scratch that. I probably wouldn’t have said anything. Isn’t it standard to have a car? Why mention it?
But anyway, at Safety Patrol I kept going despite this wierdo’s lack of enthusiasm for my police state. I eventually got so enthusiastic I started insisting that all kids sat on the benches facing the same way. No more walking around talking to other kids while waiting for parents – that was just too dangerous. One kid decided to get up and walk around. So what happened? His name went straight in my book. When his dad arrived the kid told him he got written up and boy, was his dad mad. He tried yelling at me but there was nothing I could do. His name was already in my notebook.
The dad went above the heads of the sixth graders in charge (hadn’t he heard of a chain of command?) and went straight to the teachers. They tried to assure him it was nothing to worry about, and the main point of Safety Patrol was to keep the kids safe, but he wasn’t happy until they told him the notebook meant nothing.
It was such a big fiasco that I kind of lost my enthusiasm for Safety Patrol. Then I ended up moving to a terrible school the next year where everyone hated me because I was such a dork so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. My career as a law enforcement officer/dictator was over.
Sure, I could get into law enforcement now, but I think the only enforcing I could do would be at some kind of mall. That probably wouldn’t work out because a flashlight and keys won’t come close to bringing back the kind of confidence and power I had in Safety Patrol.