Thursday, June 22, 2006


Wow. Where does one begin?

Mrs. Westberg (Ruth) was the chorus teacher at Clarke. I first had her in 6th grade. For the most part, our class was well-behaved - including myself, believe it or not! I had no real problems with her. In fact, I can even recall volunteering to sing solo in her class. She used to offer extra "A's" to those students brave enough to sing one of our regular songs all by ourself. I did it several times. I've always had a fairly decent singing voice. Nobody groaned. Although Ken Bartz used to try and make me laugh.

Prior to class, she would often have us "warm up" by singing the phrase, "aluminum, linoleum, aluminum."

7th grade was much different. For starters, my good friend and fellow troublemaker Doug Wall was in there with me. It was the first time that we'd ever been in a class together. Plus his neighbor Tom Grassman was in there. He and I became friends. I also got to be around Craig Rysticken for the first time on a daily basis. He and I were not friends. Craig used to treat several of us like human punching bags. And of course there was Kevin Dehne. I'd met Kevin that year. He and I shared every class together. 5th hour chorus was going to be a blast.

From almost day one, it was painfully obvious that not a lot of learning was going to occur. Westberg's class was one where kids could fool around in. There was just something about her personality. I don't think she was a bad person. But she always seemed grumpy. It's like she had a permanent scowl on her face. More often than not, she was in a bad mood.

I remember one day when we are all milling about. We were doing something in class. I told Toby Schwartz to look under her skirt. And when her back was turned, he did it! I think Pam Schley was the only other person to see him do it. She gave him a disgusted look. I laughed. I believe Toby said her panties were blue.

Westberg had a discipline system. If you screwed around or got in trouble, she'd write you name on the board. That was a warning. If you screwed around again, you got a checkmark next to your name. That meant you had to serve a detention after school, in her room, for 15 minutes. A second checkmark meant a half hour. A third checkmark meant you had to go to Mr. Vogt's office. Mr. Vogt was the principal. If you failed to show up for one of her detentions, she gave you an additional one. She'd keep a list of names on her board for everyone in all her classes. If anyone ever got up to 25, that was supposed to be an instant suspension from school. If you read Kevin Dehne's entry, you'll find the story of how Kevin and I got suspended from school, after we were kicked out of her class one day. On that day, I actually reached the 25 mark for suspensions. So, I figured I'd dodged a bullet. She couldn't suspend me because I'd already been suspended. Eventually my number increased into the 40's. I may have even hit the 50 mark. I do know for a fact that I was on top of that leader board, and set the record. At one point she told me that if I didn't start serving them, that I would be suspended again. So I think I showed up for a few days, staying 90 minutes, and wiping out three of them each day. But that was too much to endure. After three or four days I couldn't take it anymore. And I refused to serve anymore of her detentions. Eventually she gave up trying. I think I may have earned a few "F's" in her gradebook because of it. But hey, it beat staying after school.

One day I brought a set of matches to school. I spent the time in Westberg's class, lighting them, and throwing them at her, while her back was turned. I don't know if she was aware of it. But she did know I had matches. Because she wrote it down on my "trip sheet" (again See Kevin's entry for an explanation on that). Funny, I would have thought that to be grounds for suspension. But apparently, it wasn't.

At one point that year, Westberg appeared to be offering me an olive branch. Knowing I'd taken piano lessons for seven years, she showed me some sheet music, and asked if I was capable of playing it. I said yes. Then she asked if I would be interested in doing it for the class. I angrily said, "No!" Nothing more needed to be said. She knew I wasn't going to do anything for her.

In a typical week, I would find myself kicked out of her class. She would simply bypass her whole checkmark system and yell, "Get out!" I guess she got tired of our constant disruptions. Kevin, Doug and myself were generally the only ones to get the boot. But on some days, others would join us. One day when Tom was kicked out, the four of us went into the lunchroom and played tag. The janitor would be in there cleaning up, as it was just after lunch. But he didn't care. Tom still talks about that to this day.

Westberg's class was closed in. In other words, there were no windows. Her room is different today. But back then, all one would have to do is turn out the lights. That would plunge the room into total darkness. And of course, the light switch was by the door - which was at the end of the long walkway leading into the room. On occasion, one of us would flip off the light and slam the door. Then we'd hear a bunch of "ooooohs" from the room. Westberg would have to walk around her piano, flip the light on and open the door to scream at us. Then she'd go back in. If we were feeling ballsy, we'd do it again a few minutes later.

One day there was a horrible stench in the hall. We traced it to a garbage can outside the lunchroom. Someone had gotten a rotten orange in their lunch. Obviously, it wasn't eaten. I had a devious plan. With both Kevin and Doug egging me on, I took some paper towel and grabbed the orange. I took it into the chorus room, and rubbed and squirted it all over the inside doorknob. When I was finished, I flipped off the light and closed the door. Moments later, Westberg opened the door, prepared to yell at us. But instead, she looked at us with a look of horror on her face. As she did so, she was clutching her hand in front of her. I pointed and laughed. Then I screamed, "She touched it! She touched it!" As the three of us laughed, Westberg said nothing, then walked to the bathroom. She came out a minute or two later, again said nothing, then walked back into her class. I have no idea what what going through her mind. I think she was beyond disgusted. She looked ill. I've often wondered what she thought it was. Yes, we were bastards.

I remember being up at her piano getting my "trip sheet" filled out. Someone (perhaps me) asked about her perfume. She always wore too much of it. And I for one didn't care for it. I pointed it out, and asked "WHAT is that?" Annoyed, she said what it was, then remarked, "It's very expensive." I then made some sort of joke about how I thought the perfume was called "Eau De Cow."

My mom had to come see Westberg a couple of times that year. If I got into too much trouble, she would summons one of my parents for a conference. After her first meeting, my mom told me, "I don't like that woman. I also don't think she likes kids." Way to go mom! Of course she went on to say that despite my feelings for her, I needed to behave better.

We sang a ton of songs in her class. Quite often, we would substitute our own lyrics in place of the real ones. "Hey Jude" became "Hey Dude... Why do you smell?" We had entire verses. My favorite was of course "Yesterday." I coined the phrase, "Oh I believe that Doug is gay." That one caught on like wildfire. Damn near everyone sang it - including the girls. Doug would often get furious about it. Even if he were kicked out of class, whenever the lyric was sung, he would run back in the room, scream "happy" (after the word "gay") then run back out. Eventually Mrs. Westberg refused to play that song anymore.

Another one we often sang was the Mickey Mouse Club theme. During the opening march on the piano, prior to the lyrics, Jason Anderson and Kevin Dehne would sing "lick a pussy, lick a pussy" to the beat. I don't think Westberg ever caught on. Even when I was in the hallway, I could hear Jason's booming voice as he spit out those lyrics.

Later on in that same song, there was a lyric "Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse, forever let us hold you banner high, high, high, high." Well, everytime we sang "Mickey Mouse" I would yell "Donald Duck" right after. That too really caught on. And before long nearly everyone sang that as well. I don't think I invented that one though. I'm pretty sure I heard Donald Duck sing that in a cartoon. I distictly recall being kicked out and sitting in the hall one day. When they sang that song, I heard many people sing "Donald Duck." I smiled. I was so proud!

At Christmas time, we of course sang Christmas songs. I had a Mad Magazine that had a bunch of Christmas song parodies. "We three clods from Omaha are, spending Christmas Eve in a car. Driving, drinking, glasses clinking - who needs a lousy bar?" Westberg got really furious. She pleaded with us, "Don't do that to Christmas songs!" She seemed like she might break down into tears.

Later in the year, a teacher's aide or something joined the class. His name was Eric Bush. Read my entry on Kevin Dehne to see how he would physically abuse us. What an asshole! Anyway, one day he was in charge, as Westberg was home sick or something. In a strange attempt to mimic her checkmark theory, after my name was up there with three checkmarks, I screwed up again. He looked at my name, grabbed a piece of chalk, thought for a few seconds, then circled it. What the hell? Then he said, "That... makes it worse." Yeah, ok. I'm laughing my ass off as I type this. Nothing became of it.

One day I found a hat in the garbage can. So I put it on and covered my whole head. I then walked into the chorus room bow-legged, as if I were a gunslinger. I stopped in front of the piano, faced the class, then pulled out my imaginary guns and started "shooting" everyone with my fingers. In print, it may not seem to exciting. But in class, it looked absolutely ridiculous - and very, very funny. I have no idea what I was doing. Westberg of course marched around the piano, grabbed me by the arm, and escorted me out of the room.

Around January, Mr. Vogt called a bunch of Westberg's "troubled" students into the lunchroom for a meeting. It was all the bad kids from all of her classes. What a collection of misfits that was. I'm not sure why Kevin wasn't there for that. But Doug and I were. Vogt was surprisingly jovial. He even used a few cuss words to break the ice. Basically he pleaded with us to start behaving better. I don't know if it worked with anyone else. But it didn't work in our class. Actually, at some point suring that meeting, Doug and I started fooling around, to which Vogt began to scream at us. He was a scary dude.

In the spring of that year, Westberg and I started screaming at each other. I crumpled up a piece of paper and tossed it into her face, saying, "You're it!" She got really offended by that. She took me to Mr. Vogt's office, who promptly suspended me from school for three days. I'm pretty sure I still have the suspension notice. The reason listed - "Conduct unbecoming a student: Throwing wad of paper at teacher."

See my entries on Doug Wall, Craig Rysticken, B.J. Lutterman, Tom Grassman and Kevin Dehne for additional stories about Mrs. Westberg.

When I got to see Tom this past February, he mentioned something I never knew before. He said Mrs. Westberg is the person who taught him how to play the guitar. Wow! Today Tom makes a living playing it.

After that 1983-1984 school year, I believe Clarke wouldn't let her teach any 7th or 8th grade students anymore. She was relegated to teaching the 6th grade only. If that's true, I suspect it's because she simply didn't have the ability to control the bad kids in her classes.

Today I believe Mrs. Westberg has retired. I think she's active in the Manitowoc community. As my parents are both members of the Lakeshore Wind Ensemble, I have often seen her at some of their concerts. We've never spoken. Although I wouldn't be surprised if she's recognized me.

UPDATE - 7/20/06 - On July 15th, Kevin Dehne and I drove by Westberg's house. Amazingly, she was outside. So we stopped to say hi. She is in fact retired now, and living in Manitowoc. She remembered our names, but not our actions - which was a good thing. She did remember Wayne Rebarchek, whom she said "got under her skin." She said she taught at Clarke for five years, and hated it. She indicated that it takes a certain kind of teacher to teach kids at that age. The picture below was taken during that conversation.


At Thu Jun 22, 06:04:00 PM PDT, Blogger Brandon P. said...

Mr. Westberg taught music class at C.C. Case. I don't know if she floated between the grade schools or if that was her permanent gig at the time. She had this way of teaching musical beats. There was clapping involved as well as words associated with the different notes such as quarter notes, half notes, eighth notes, etc. I've fallen away from my musical upbringing too much to remember which was which but I believe a quarter note was a "ta" and a half note was a "tee tee". We sat in music class day after day clapping our hands singing "ta, ta, tee tee, ta, tee tee, tee tee, ta, ta". Its something that I some day expect to see on an episode of South Park.

I don't recall having Mrs. Westberg at Clarke or Washington. I was a band geek so maybe I was pardoned from the chorus thing. We screwed around in band too. It was also viewed as a "free" hour.

At Thu Jun 22, 07:08:00 PM PDT, Blogger TWORIVERSWALRUS said...

Ta, ta, tee-tee, ta. I can hum the melody of those "words" right now.

In addition to the ta's and tee-tee's, there was also the dreaded "tafi-tay-fee." Remember that one?

In 7th grade, Clarke had three musical classes. One was chorus. One was band. The last class was something like music theory. Ask Meff about that one. I think he was in the class. I think Westberg taught that as well.

At Thu Jun 22, 07:42:00 PM PDT, Blogger jenny said...

"ta-eee-tee tafitayfee tee tee whole note four counts"

At Fri Jun 23, 05:41:00 AM PDT, Blogger Greg Pagel said...

Sounds like rap to me.

At Fri Jun 23, 07:32:00 AM PDT, Blogger TWORIVERSWALRUS said...

That must be why I hated that class.


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