COLUMN: The Locker Scare, and the evil orb

There were a lot of things that scared the kid out of me during my first days of high school.

COLUMN: The Locker Scare, and the evil orb

“Transition Your Way To Success in High School – Tips and ideas to help your student navigate through typical challenges.”

So titled was a recent submission from a tutoring service. Interesting, I thought, and read further.

One of the issues they mentioned was The Locker Scare.

To this, I can relate very well.

There were a lot of things that scared the kid out of me during my first days of high school.

There was the intensely worrisome prospect of missing the bus, or being the focus of dozens of stares.

Arriving as an eighth grader country boy in the parking lot of the high school was like being teleported from Spuzzum to downtown Los Angeles.

The place was awash with strangers, who blew in and out of the school doors like leaves carried on a noisy, fickle wind.

And then … there was the dreaded Locker – a featureless closet in which to put one’s treasured books and belongings, where they would stay unattended for hours, vulnerable to all manner of bad things within and without.

And worst of all, this wooden dungeon was guarded by the logic-defying, mind-numbing single rotary dial combination lock.

Still made to this day, these things are indeed the devil’s toys.

Who would make a device that requires of young teens a photographic memory, the delicate fingers of a safe-cracker, and the nerves of a battlefield surgeon, to access essentials locked behind the mechanical mystery?

I don’t remember finding my locker on that first day at high school, but obviously I did, because eventually there it was – my imagined nemesis – yawning open in empty, bored disdain.

I knew if I put my precious books, new jacket, and fresh gym gear in there, and clicked the combination lock closed, I’d likely never see any of the contents again.

But despite deep forebodings, I did it.

After frantically finding my first class, frantically taking notes from a teacher who had abandoned the concept of a chalkboard and printed hand-outs, and then even more frantically steering through a sea of human bodies to find my locker, the nightmare event unfolded as dreamed.

The combination lock would not open.

Why, oh why, would this cruel school give a supremely stressed-out 13-year-old such a fiendish device to master on the first day?

Was it one turn to the right, and around twice? Or was it twice to the left and then past the second number, face east and rub your belly three times in a counterclockwise motion?

44-12-28? 36-24-36?

Brain freezing.

Lungs seizing.

This little metal monster feeds on fear.  The more you want and need it to obey, the more potent its power to resist.

Fittingly, it has a black, devious grin around its circumference, marked by numbers you desperately dial in vain.

The bell for the next class went off, and I think I momentarily passed out from hyperventilation.

The grade niner next to me was highly amused over my obvious distress, and I had a mote of satisfaction at the thought of using his noggin to batter my way into my barricaded books.

Late for my second class of the day, I gasped out an explanation of the crisis. The teacher simply nodded. He was a veteran. The sight of locker-shocked students didn’t faze him.

By noon, I had found someone who had the mojo to overcome the lock voodoo. I had to give him my combination numbers, but he conjured the infernal thing open.

For the next several days, I bested the beast. I carefully closed its fang into the socket, but didn’t allow it to click shut.

Of course, this only worked for awhile until some sharp-eyed hall-wart noticed I was not locking my locker, and various items from it disappeared, spiking my already stratospheric heart rate.

Ultimately, over the months and years to follow, I came to have an uneasy truce with the evil orbs, and the catacombs they protected.

But to this day, if you want to keep me out of somewhere, just hang a combination lock in front of it.

You don’t even have to actually lock it.