I entered Omaha Northwest High School in the fall of 1972. I was a sophomore and at the time the school only served 10th-12th grades. The school was brand new. The first steps I took in the hall were the very first that the hall had ever seen students. Every thing was new. New lockers, new desks, new classrooms, new teachers. The bathrooms were clean; no graffiti on the bathroom stalls. Our text books were brand new.
My dad was in the service and we moved around a lot, so I only attended there for one year. I went to three high schools in four years. Making friends was a skill I learned to develop so as not to be known as the new kid. It was pretty easy at Northwest as all students were just as new as I was. The school was fed by three junior high schools since the Omaha Public School System had just been redistricted. Redistricted; a word I learned at Omaha Northwest.
On my first day I was scheduled for study hall in 5th period. I found out that this class would be held in the upstairs library. This library was located (surprise!) upstairs from the downstairs library. The only access for this room was a spiral staircase. It was three students wide and made of black iron and it was fun to take stairs that didn’t go straight. Hey, I was 15, okay?
Entering the library I saw rows of brand new wooden desks all arranged in order, six across and eight deep. It smelled like nothing. Cardboard. Each table had four new chairs, two on each side. At the back of the room was a larger desk, at which was seated a teacher. The room was lined with book shelves from top to bottom. Three walls full of nothing but shelves and the front wall was glass. On each shelf was nothing. No books, no dust, no nothing. Books were, I guessed, reserved for the downstairs library. I guess you can only get so many new books when you’re a new school and all.
I found a seat toward the middle back on the left side of the room. The class was full as I remember it and there were three people at my table. Students shuffled in until the bell rang. My first day in a new school in my very first study hall.
The teacher at the desk in front rose slowly and introduced himself. “I am Mr. Hepfinger,” he announced. “I am the band director here at Northwest High, but for 5th period, I have the honor of being your study hall teacher.”
He had red hair and an aura about him that suggested you not cross him. I’d talked to Mr. Hepfinger during the summer. He called me and asked if I was going to be in his marching band. I played trumpet in junior high, but wasn’t very good. I told him I didn’t want to play in the band. Several times. He called about three times in June and July trying to recruit me. Thanks, but no thanks. Now here he was in person teaching study hall.
“This is your very first day in high school,” he said. “You’ve never been in study hall before, so let me enlighten you sophomores what to expect in my study hall. It is called Study Hall for a reason. The purpose of study hall is for you to study. You may study your homework. You may study for a test. You may study anything you want to study, but you are here to study. I realize that today is your first day and you may not have anything to study right now, so let me tell you what else you can do in study hall. You may read your textbooks. You may cross your arms on the table and lay your head down. You may look up at the ceiling and count the number of tiles. You may contemplate your navel. You may not eat, you may not drink, you may not chew gum. YOU WILL NOT TALK in my study hall. If you need to get a hall pass to use the restroom, you may walk up to my desk and whisper to me. This will be a quiet room, conducive to studying.” He went on for 20 minutes about the do’s an don’ts of study hall etiquette. The complete rules of study hall could have been written and published by Mr. Hepfinger, who appeared to me to be just as qualified to be a study hall teacher as he was a band director. There was no way anybody in that class could have any questions about study hall. Still he asked, “Are there any questions?”
On my early journey to being class clown I raised my hand. “Yes?” he questioned, raising one eyebrow with and incredulous look as if anyone dare to have misunderstood his exhaustive instructions.
“Yeah,” I said, “can we check out books?” It got quite the laugh from my fellow study-hallers but generated a blank stare from Mr. Hepfinger. He nodded slightly as if to say “So you’re going to be the one.”
Yep. I was the one.