As I watched a long line of youngsters walk back to their buses after a downtown tour last week, I noticed that many of them were dressed inappropriately for the chilly spring morning.
The scene took me back to the eighth grade. It was autumn, and our teacher had sent home permission slips to our parents to ask whether we could take a class trip the next day to Lake Winnepesaukah.
Could we go? To Lake Winnie? The only obstacle that would prevent us kids from such a trip would be two leg casts and an advanced case of cooties.
The amusement park was only about 25 miles away, but that was far enough to keep us country kids from going there except on special family excursions when we were saddled with, well, our families. We had all been to the park, but never with our friends on a weekday when we were supposed to be studying arithmetic and the other R's.
Could we go? Just try to stop us!
Being handed this blessing was not enough for my friends and me, though; we tempted fate.
"Let's wear shorts tomorrow," a classmate said. "It's been nice weather, and it would be a shame to walk around all day in jeans."
The others in our group rubbed their hairless chins and thought. We couldn't argue with the logic. It would be a long day, and what good is a boat chute if the water can't cool every inch of our skin when it makes the final plunge?
Still, this would be civil disobedience of a degree not seen in America since Thoreau took on the government. It was the era of Beaver Cleaver, not Beavis and Butt-Head.
"This isn't 2010," I pointed out. "We can't wear shorts on a school trip. We'll get into big trouble."
"So?" countered another young co-conspirator. "We'll be in public. What are they going to do? Beat all of us in front of the world?"
He seemed to have a point. Slowly, one by one, our resistance wavered and fell. We promised to wear short pants when we convened at school the next morning to take the bus.
This was big. Until now, a class trip had traveled no farther than the Coca-Cola bottling plant four miles away. Just as big, however, was my cabal's "boys just want to have fun" plot. I went home excited.
I barely slept that night but woke up quickly when I ran out the door in my cutoffs and met the coldest morning of that fall. I felt like a bear with reverse hibernation syndrome; had I slept until midwinter?
My mother took one look at my cutoffs and ordered me to change.
"I can't," I said. "We all decided to wear shorts. I can't wear pants. That would be chickening out. Please. Please."
My whining wore her down, and so I triumphantly lined up at the bus to meet my buddies. They all wore pants!
"I can't believe you guys chickened out," I said.
"I can't believe you wore shorts," one said. "Aren't you freezing?"
I was, but a promise was a promise. I froze in silence. The teachers didn't yell at me; I suppose they we conserving their warm breath, or perhaps they felt sorry for the stupid kid who didn't know how to dress.
The day was long and miserable, and not just because of the icy water that soaked my legs in the boat chute. That day, I didn't think I would live past 13; I didn't really want to, anyway.
That wasn't the last time I have suffered for my convictions, but since then, I do keep an eye to the weather forecast before sealing a blood pact with my friends.