Sign Flipper


William Cavanaugh, Contributing Writer

Bill Cavanaugh, William Cavanaugh

Middle school was a strange time. Dull classes, with even duller teachers. Most subjects seemed just lame, with no real-world bearing. Take 9th grade geometry, for example. As if I care how many cubic feet are in a barn silo?  Ridiculous.

I wasn’t much of a student. I might have been better if I gave it some effort. But in 1972, my interest was primarily music, sports, and girls. My parents, aware of my “C” student coast, stayed on me every night about homework. For geometry, they even offered help, to which I emphatically declined, “I can do it myself!”

As I would head upstairs to my room after dinner, I’d hear my dad’s daily reminder of, “You wanna be a ‘sign-flipper’ all your life?” Yeah, yeah, I think to myself. Well, maybe I do. I kind of like the idea of working outdoors and controlling traffic flow.

Report cards were handed out in homeroom every January. I hated that day. It usually starts off bad and became worse. My heart began to beat faster as I opened it slowly, holding my breath.

There it is. All C’s, except a D- in geometry. Well, at least I didn’t fail. My dad will flip out when he sees this. I feel sick, and dizzy, as I free fall through Alice’s rabbit hole.

At the end of the school day, my best friend Jack joins me at my locker. Lester Jones soon arrives. Jones is that kid who Jack and I tolerate, but drives us both nuts, usually in less than half a minute.

“You guys good on your report card?” he snarks. “Or are you going be looking for a place outside to sleep tonight?”

“Oh, shut up Jones,” I respond. “You’re an idiot.” My response has obviously given away my report card results.

I opened my report card to show them the scorn of my irritability.

“Geesch man, what happened?” asked Jack.

Jones grabbed the report from my hands. “No sweat, Sally. Just change the D- to a B+.  No one will notice. It ain’t brain science.”

“Are you nuts?!” I said. “If my old man sees that, he’d kill me.”

Thoughts raced through my head as we walked home. Do I change the grade dishonestly to a B+? Will the ink color be a match?  Will I match the handwriting? Am I nuts to listen to that moron Jones? Will I be immediately shipped out to the French foreign legion?

My plan was to show dad in his lazy boy while he’s watching “Laugh-In.” The room lights would be dim; he’d sign the card and wouldn’t even notice. He’ll be tired and distracted. It can’t miss.

As I roll all of this over in my head, I have a thought that being a ‘sign flipper’ in the French foreign legion may not be such a bad idea.

Near dinner time, my older brother burst into the kitchen in his usual loud, obnoxious way. He announces for all to hear: “Hey Skippy! Did you get your report card today?” “Laugh-In” plan now aborted.

The irony of all of this is I chose a career where geometry was a large part of the skills required. God knew.

I did show the report card to my dad prior to dinner that night. As I gave it to him, I fessed up quickly to my devious change and profusely apologized for same.

My grounding of 30 days gave me a lot of time to rehash all of this. In hindsight, it was a lot better than serving in the desert of a foreign country.

Image credit: Bill Cavanaugh