Story - Pass Runner part 1 - An affinity for it
Updated: May 18
So. Say you're sitting in class. It's not your favorite class. In fact, it's your least favorite class. The words "least favorite," obviously, are the words you use when you're talking to your grandma about school and she asks you which classes you like and don't like. If you were talking to anyone but grandma, you'd say this class sucks. It sucks because you're not good at it. It's not just that you don't get it, you don't even get why you don't get it. Or why it even matters whether you get it or not.
Some kids don't get algebra. Some kids don't get history. It varies. But whatever class it is for you, you're sitting there wondering why factoring polynomials, or sentence diagramming the past-perfect-continuous tense, or world war negative five has anything to do with anything.
During parent-teacher conferences, your teacher diplomatically told your parents that you don't have an affinity for the subject. Your parents miss his point. They think that a "lack of affinity" for a subject just means you have to work a tad bit harder to get that A+. They don't realize that a "lack of affinity" for something means that their darling child, the product of their combined genomes, is doomed to fail.
Everyone else in class, of course, is pretty-much ripping their friggin' arms out of their sockets as they stretch their hands as high in the air as possible hoping that this time the teacher will call on them to diagram a sentence or graph a function. Normally, you'd be slouching in your chair to the point where your head was basically where your butt should be, just to minimize the chance that, despite the tropical rain forest of raised and wiggling hands around you, the teacher would call on you. But not today. Today you are getting out of school early. Maybe you have to go to the dentist. Or attend your sister's ballet thing. Whatever it is, any minute now, the pass runner is going to waltz into the classroom with your own personalized dismissal pass and you are getting the hell out of that classroom.
At that moment, and only at that moment, do you realize how important the role of a pass runner is. Most people don't think about pass runners at all. They just assume that the early dismissal pass is just going to magically show up and, for once, they can flee the chamber of madness where everyone is just so goddamn enthusiastic about polynomials. But what if the pass runner is late? What if they don't show up at all? Failure to deliver your early dismissal pass will leave you sitting in the class that you hate, vulnerable to public questioning and humiliation. How many more minutes before you're called on to factor a polynomial, or list the forty-nine causes of world war negative five? What if the pass runner doesn't come before the teacher decides that public humiliation is the best way to address your lack of affinity for his subject? It gets worse from there.
If the pass runner is late, the living hell your life has become doesn't end when you escape the school. "Why didn't you come out on time," your mom asks when you climb into the car. "You need to start being more responsible," she'll say. "We are going to be late."
What. The. Effing. Ef. does she think you were going to do? Just get up and leave class without the mandatory pink rectangle of freedom signed by the attendance office? Does she want you to sprint out of the school like you just robbed a bank, with the school resource officer tearing along behind you with his taser? If your life was a war movie, your mother's idea of responsible behavior would be the scene where you're running in slow motion from the tree line to the landing zone, getting gunned down by the enemy just before you reach safety.
Anyway, my point is that the pass runner is an important person in your life.
I was like you once - I didn't think about pass running at all. Until I dropped oceanography. Without a suitable replacement science course in the oceanography time slot, they assigned me to the attendance office. After dropping the class, my new schedule said "Period 6: Attndc Ofc. Pass Rnr."
My High School education began in earnest the day I reported for duty as a pass runner.
I was trained to run passes by the senior pass runners. Some of these elite students had been running passes since the first semester of junior year. They taught me how to run passes to classrooms in the vocational wing. With their guidance, I learned how to use a pencil to prop the main building door open when I delivered passes to the exterior modular classrooms, eliminating the need to run around the campus to re-enter the school through the office entrance. Soon I was running four, five, even six passes a period, to the gymnasium, the science wing, and even the cafeteria. Some kids take half a year to learn how to run passes properly. Other kids never get the hang of it. But I learned the basic skills of pass running in only a few weeks. I had an affinity for it.
Over the next few months I mastered the intricacies of pass running. If they gave out colored belts in pass running, I would have worked my way up to five-dimensional black belt. I could accomplish pass running feats that other runners couldn't even dream of. I ran passes to the marching band during their on-field practice and to the drama club during a dress rehearsal. I delivered a pass to the correct O'Malley twin even though nobody could tell him apart from his sister. I even ran passes to other pass runners while they were running passes. I was that good.
When you reach the highest level of proficiency in your profession, you tend to notice things that others miss. For example, every time I run a pass to Mr. Jackson's history class, he's talking about the Monroe Doctrine. First marking period, last marking period, freshmen, seniors, whatever. That's pretty much his entire curriculum. And I noticed that Mr. Flynn always seems to be hanging around in the cafeteria when Fatina – the only young(ish) and attractive(ish) lunch lady – happens to be washing down the tables. And I know all the kids who skip class during 6th period and which bathrooms they hide in while doing it.
I also noticed that nobody ever delivered a pass to room 277. Ever. Literally – I checked the log.
To most people, the pass log is just a gargantuan three-ring binder that gains a new sign-out sheet every week or two as we record and sign for the passes we delivered. There's a county policy about retaining early-dismissal records, but I guess there's no policy about discarding them – the log has pass records that go all the way back to when the school opened in 1975.
To me, the pass log is the story of my people. If you study the history of the school's early dismissal pass delivery, you can find untold tales of pass-running heroics, tragedies, and comedy. For example, in June 1994, a pass runner delivered twelve passes in one period. (That's the record, by the way. I came close when I ran ten passes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but nobody has topped the 1994 record).
The echoes of the 9/11 attacks are in the log as well. On that day, the log records pass runners delivering early dismissal passes to over one hundred fifty students as their parents pulled them home after the towers collapsed. And never let it be said that pass runners aren't without a sense of humor! The log contains plenty of entries of passes delivered to Phil M. Buttocks, Richard Hertz, and the rest of the usual hilarious fake names.
Yet, in the entirety of pass-running history, there is not a single case of anyone delivering a pass to room 277. Every other room in the building has had a pass delivered to it at some time or another. Each of the regular classrooms have had hundreds of passes delivered to them. Passes have been delivered to the main office, the kitchen in the cafeteria, and even, once in 1983, to the roof. But nobody has ever been dismissed from room 277. It's kinda weird, don't you think?
As a pass runner, I considered the matter of room 277 fully within my jurisdiction. Sure, I could have referred the matter to the student government association. But, frankly, they don't have the resources or the expertise to deal with this kind of thing. Indeed, as I wasn't even sure what "kind of thing" this was, it would be irresponsible to create drama and intrigue where none was called for. I decided to investigate room 277 myself.
My chance to conduct preliminary recon came soon enough – I had to deliver an early dismissal pass to room 273. After rescuing a stressed-looking sophomore from his chemistry class, I stepped into the vestibule for room 277. I never had a class in this room, but, from the outside, it appeared to be a normal classroom like any of the others on the second floor. The wooden door, like all the rest in the school, had a narrow rectangular wire glass window that gave a view of a small wedge of the room.
The light was on in the room – class was in session. I peered through the window and saw a row of students sitting in the back row of seats. The window was too narrow for me to see what was closer to the front of the room, but the small region I could see looked normal enough.
I was able to get a good look at the student closest to the door. He was a jock-looking kid, probably a senior. He had longish hair and was wearing a shirt with brown and orange stripes. He was focused on whatever was happening in the front of the room and didn't notice me looking in. I stared at him for a full minute, trying to figure out who he was. But I couldn't. I was sure that I never saw this kid before in my life.
I spent the rest of that week asking around about room 277. I was just looking for basic information: have you ever had a class there? Do you know anyone who had a class there? Have you ever been inside for any reason?
As I expected, unfortunately, my investigative efforts shook loose more abuse than actual information. I lingered in the physics lab after delivering a pass to a senior in AP physics to ask if anyone had ever been in 277. "Hey, you're the one who's majoring in attendance studies," said one would-be physicist. "We've got better things to do than help you with your super-hard attendance lab."
The culinary students were even less helpful. "Whoa there, cornflake," Brandon, my pass recipient snarked at me when I asked about 277. "Why don't you let us Froot Loops do the heavy mental lifting here. Maybe you should concentrate on running those passes."
It was the same just about everywhere else I asked around. The Cheerleaders, the world history class, and even the kids in Small Engine Repair threw so much shade at me, by the end of the week I was casting three shadows. In the rare cases where I got a serious answer from someone, it was always the same: nobody had ever been in room 277, or even knew anyone who had.
Whenever a pass run would take me into the 270 wing, I would duck into 277's vestibule and peek into the room. It was the same scene every time. Exactly the same scene. The same kids sat in the same seats, their eyes fixed on the front of the room. The jock-kid closest to the door was even wearing the same clothes every day: corduroy pants and an orange and brown striped shirt.
I don't know why I kept trying, but my persistence eventually paid off. I finally got some actual help from David Milbley. David is a prolific hanger-outer in the boys' rooms. He treats it like it's his job. He practically punches a timeclock every time he starts a restroom hang-out session. David's parents, who don't realize that their son has an affinity for hanging out in bathrooms, and a lack of affinity for the more traditional lines of study, send him to private, and very expensive, SAT tutoring each week. It's because of David's private lessons that I'm so familiar with his restroom schedule – I have to deliver his hall pass each week so he can leave early for tutoring.
"Everyone zip it up! Girl coming in!" (That's my standard way of announcing a pass delivery to the boys' room. (You really don't want to wait until they come out to hand them their pass – it takes waaaay too long.))
"It's just me, Kitcher," David mumbled. "And I'm all zipped up." (Did I mention that my name is Sara Kitcher? I should have mentioned that earlier).
I asked David my usual set of questions about 277.
"I don't know." He paused. Sometimes David pauses for so long that most people think he's stopped talking. But I know to wait that extra thirty seconds to let him continue. "Maybe you should ask The Legacy."
"The Legacy! Yes, David. That's a fantastic idea!"
The Legacy's real name was John Wagner. It was a widely held belief amongst the Westlands student body that The Legacy reached his peak in high school. He was in the class of 1979 – the first class to graduate from a newly opened Westlands. Not only that, but he was on the Westlands wrestling team when they won the 1979 state championship.
People who investigate this sort of thing report that that The Legacy never again reached the same heights of glory as he had in 1979 when he could be seen, I assume, swaggering about the halls of Westlands in his varsity wrestling jacket, proudly sporting his class ring, with his cheerleader girlfriend on his arm.
Peaking in high school is normally considered a bad thing – who would want to live the entirety of their adult life knowing that they left the best version of themselves somewhere between homeroom and their locker? The Legacy – that's who!
The Legacy found a loophole in the unwritten set of social rules that value adulthood accomplishments over childhood success: he simply never left Westlands. He graduated and immediately re-entered the school in the position of assistant wrestling coach. Since he never moved on to a second job, he technically has never left high school. If we apply the same social formula that says he peaked-in-high-school, we have to admit that, technically, he's still at his peak! It's brilliant!
That's also why we call him The Legacy. Not only has he been at Westlands since the pre-Cambrian era, he never (Ne. Ver.) fails to remind the current student body of the relative greatness of those legendary beings of the class of 1979 who won the state wrestling championship.
At some point or another, every kid in school had been unfavorably compared to the members of the 1979 wrestling team. It's a rite of passage. My time came while I was taking the fitness test my freshman year. "Come on, Kitcher!" The Legacy singled me out. "If we were as sluggish as you in seventy-nine, we never would have won state!"
A high pass delivery load took up my entire 6th period the next day, but the day after that was a slow one, and I had time to pay a visit to the physical education wing. I stopped in the gym lobby to gaze at the large trophy case dedicated to Westland's glory in the field of sports. They update the trophies every semester to make sure everyone knows about our latest victories. Yet, despite the frequent updates, the 1979 state wrestling championship trophy has somehow still managed stay in the collection. It never moves from its permanent home in the right corner of the case.
I pressed my face against the glass case to study the photograph of the 1979 team that leaned against the base of the ancient trophy. I wanted to see what The Legacy looked like in high school. If I held the image of him as kid in my mind's eye, I thought, it might make talking to him less of an ordeal.
I scanned the row of smiling faces in the photo. I found The Legacy, standing third from the left. The rest of his team members were smiling broadly. But the person formerly known to the student body as John Wagner stared into the camera with a grim expression of ... fear? He looked as if he knew that his moment of glory would soon be over. Like he was peering down the steep, endless, downhill slope that would define the rest of his life.
Something about the kid next to him caught my eye. Unlike proto-Legacy John Wagner, he had the smile of someone who had every expectation that the rest of his life would be full of moments like the one captured in the photo. But it wasn't his smile that grabbed my attention. There was something else.
He was a jock-looking kid, with longish hair. Probably a senior. I studied the names in the photo's caption and learned he was William Tavers. I collapsed to my knees when I realized why he looked so familiar. William Tavers, member of the 1979 Westlands wrestling team, was, without a doubt, the kid I could see through the narrow window into room 277. William Tavers, the kid currently taking classes in in room 277, hadn't aged a single day from when the team picture was taken, almost 40 years ago.
Part 2 - Infinite Pain. Destruction of your Soul. Factoring Polynomials.