What About Your Pens...

Some days you've got a lot. Some days, you're all alone

Our AP History instructor junior year of high school was Jerry Larkin, an ageless, animated (and agitated) scholarly sort who survived off a teachers' salary but was decidedly rich in disdain for the spoiled, whiny horde who dared cross his threshold during fifth period.  

Outside the classroom, Larkin was nattily uniformed and up for anything—his super-villain cackle could be heard echoing from the teachers’ lounge even after the second bell rang. Yet among us urchins, he was diffident—calloused from four decades of hard time with exurban kids who he couldn't imagine ever truly getting it.

Some of it was timing. Larkin came to us in his nadir near the end of his career, complete with chalk lung and a Mr. Burns curvature of the spine. 

One day in the spring, as he underwent the lugubrious task of rolling through test prep, I decided to entertain my friend Paul Sloan—then knee-deep in a growth spurt that would escalate him from five-foot-whatever, one-something-something to six-foot-two, two-fifty-plus in a manner of months. It was this rapid transition into man-sizedness that caused him to often fall asleep in class post-lunch.

Not on my watch! 

Just before the bell, I stole Beth Staley’s oversized pen pouch from her binder and one by one removed each cap with my teeth, like an actor soldier in a war movie would a grenade (think Michael J. Fox in Casualties of War) and tossed them at Larkin’s feet while he was pacing the other way, making silent-explosion gestures a few seconds later. 

This continued for about forty minutes till the whole class was involved. Even Beth got in on the fun and eventually stopped loud-whispering “GIVE ME MY PENS BACK” just to see how long the bit could last. 

A couple of minutes to bell and Larkin started to pick up on the snickers that grew louder with every pen placement. It didn't help that Jasper Banke was in the back making bomb noises causing everyone to stir. 

The veteran instructor calmly set his chalk down on the blackboard tray and, in a very Mr. Hand way, shook his head in disbelief as he saw the Bic and Sharpie carnage on the ground surrounding him. Pens were everywhere; some had even left marks on the shitty school carpet. 

“Never,” he stopped abruptly and looked up at the blinking fluorescent light overhead for answers, “in all my years of teaching have I ever been so insulted—have I ever seen such an act of ...insubordination.”

It was just pens, dude.

He looked at me, and I flushed. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. The class's eyes were all latched on to me. 

“Whoever did this,” he stepped closer, his Beatle-booted foot breaking the spine of a black Uni-Ball. “Come clean this up. RIGHT NOW. And you may be able to remain in this class.”

He paused once more. “If you don’t, there’ll be other... consequences.”

Slowly I rose from my chair. I looked over at Paul, and he was stone-faced and silent; he’d never met me before. 

I looked back at Beth, and she was head down on her desk, the massive volume of her hair covering every square inch of the tan Formica; Cousin It had disappeared from the scene. 

I glanced a couple of rows over to my other friend Chris Kayser. He had his book open and was fake-highlighting something and pretending he was two thousand miles away from this mess. 

I got on all fours and picked up every pen as fast as I could, scrambling to find matching caps to their owners. It took the entirety of the rest of the period. The bell rang, and the class shuffled out in silence. I was the last one to go. 

“Mr. Pridgen,” old Larkin said as I reached the door, “you forgot one.”

And with the flick of his feeble wrist he hit me squarely in the chest with a Parker John ballpoint. He inflated his cheeks and made an explosion sound as I walked out. 

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Oregon vs. Ohio State 

The Oregon Ducks were listless and injured most of Saturday; it wasn’t first-week jitters as much as they seemed to be Benjamin Buttoning their way through the season opener—old and hobbled, like the rest of us. 

Basically over it against a pesky Fresno State Bulldog team who had every intention of sneaking back to the land of the anti-masker and roadside recall sign with a win. 

In an injury-filled harbinger of mediocrity to come for the Ducks who may find themselves living under a tiny heap of improved competition in the Pac-12—led by former coach Chip Kelly’s emerging UCLA Bruins, who were able to light up LSU the same venue last sold out by BTS in 2019.

Oregon QB Anthony Brown Jr. threw for 172 yards and a touchdown and ran for one more late in the fourth to clinch a victory at home—with a committee of running backs led by CJ Verdell doing the offensive work. 

Big questions remain unanswered for the Ducks on the defensive side of the ball, where senior linebacker and captain Dru Mathis will be out against the Buckeyes with a leg injury.

Mathis will likely be replaced by freshman Justin Flowe who had an effective, if not uneventful, second half vs. the Bulldogs. 

One bright spot: Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal Tuesday suggested defensive back Kayvon Thibodeaux, the NFL’s top-rated DB prospect who also sacked and stripped the ball from Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener, in the first half, who also went down with a knee injury—may be OK to go in Columbus. 

Ohio State’s true-freshman QB C.J. Stroud was also shaky out the gate going into the locker room down to Minnesota. But a 21-point third quarter and better game management ensured the no. 4 Buckeyes are likely in young but capable hands. 

Ohio State also rushed for over 200 yards against the Gophers, and their defense held in the second half despite the fact their top two corners were out—both should return for Saturday.

Oregon—which is playing from a deficit and faces the prospect of losing its tenth straight to the reigning Big 10 sticker collecting champ—is two-touchdown underdogs. The Buckeyes will likely prevail, but this is a four-point or less margin of error; if for no other reason than the fact that we're still in a pandemic, we'll continue to all be a little off. 

Take Oregon +14 vs. Ohio State Noon EDT Saturday, Sept. 11 at Ohio Stadium on FOX