Advising

Mr. Otto let out a long, deep, breathy and distinctly audible sigh. The kind that as much signifies exasperation as resignation. Maybe more of the latter than the former.

An old man – as was nearly everyone to a 15-year-old – kind of round, short and with a complete head of polar white hair, he was the high school class advisor. And “advisor” was code for disciplinarian.

Very little, if any, advice flowed from him to the students in his charge.

Mr. Otto handed out detentions and related rehabilitation measures for such teenage infractions as tardiness and running in the hallway, and for such felonies as forging hall passes or parental excuses (fake excuses for pupil absences, not parental missteps). Gum-chewing probably fell between those two extremes.

Late to school with near-perfect regularity, Mr. Otto had me on his list of reprobates most likely to not succeed. Which made no impression on me. None.

He, like virtually all the older people, did not have a first name. Unless it was “Mister,” which, as it turns out, was pretty common back then. Among high school students, we were thankful for last names, if only as a means to reduce confusion. About which there was plenty. The other half of the population was “Missus.” Whether they were married or not.

Apparently, as people age, they shed their first names. We have them for a while and then, poof!, they’re gone. Doubtless, somewhere, there’s a first name graveyard. Not sure if last names appear on the headstones. Could be just a field of marble markers all labeled “Bob.”

Until now. Now everyone is known by their first name. No matter one’s social station, educational attainment, technological prowess . . . everyone is “Bob.” Or Sally. Or something incredibly exotic that no one understands and few are able to pronounce.

Very egalitarian.

But not Mr. Otto. He was pretty strict. Until you wore him down.

Once worn smooth, one still had no access to his first name; this was the mid-60s, after all. Cold War, Vietnam, hippies . . .

But once worn, Mr. Otto would rock back in his office chair, fling his hands in the air and give you a pass to the public library across the street. Or at least he did me.

Which led only to pitching pennies against a wall and delinquent behavior. Incorrigible.

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