In 1967 I was an orphaned American boy who was sent to live with his maternal aunt Rose and her husband Jack in rural New Zealand.
Having arrived in New Zealand, I had to register for school, which required that I take an intelligence test. The results of this test confirmed what many people had long suspected…
That sometimes I could be too smart for my own good.
The results surprised everybody, even me, but they especially surprised Mr Hamilton, the assistant Headmaster of Avonmore College, the school I was to attend.
“Hmmm,” Mr Hamilton said, unable to hide the difficulty he had believing it. “You’ve done very well, considering.”
Mr Hamilton sat behind his desk, my intelligence test in his hands. I sat across the desk on a hard little chair, having waited while he graded my paper.
“Hmmm,” he repeated, checking the results again.
Mr Hamilton’s appearance was notable for two things, it seemed to me, he was very clean and he was very bald. His skin was almost translucent, it was so clean, and truthfully, he didn’t have a single hair upon his head, other than a tiny close-cut patch above each ear.
“Poor penmanship though,” he added.
“I’ve never used a fountain pen before, sir,” I said.
“Yes,” he repeated, as if thinking to himself. “You’ve done very well.”
He looked up from the test in his hands, into my face.
“You’ve never taken this examination before?” he asked. He seemed incredulous.
“What?” I said. “Teen masturbation on the floor?” Now I was incredulous.
“I beg your pardon?” commanded Mr Hamilton, more incredulous still.
“Huh? Oh! Nothing, sir,” I answered, realizing my mistake. Please remember I’d only been in New Zealand a few days and sometimes I had trouble understanding what was being said to me.
And by sometimes, I mean all the time.
Mr Hamilton ignored my misunderstanding. He wanted to solve the mystery. It was obvious to him that I was a moron, why had I done so well on the intelligence test?
“Have you taken this test before?” Mr Hamilton repeated.
“No, sir. How could I? I just got here!”
“Steady, boy,” he warned, speaking firmly.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Very well,” he said, and trailed off.
He scrutinized my face, looking for a clue.
I had him there, though, because as usual I was completely clueless. I stared back at him, fighting a feeling of guilt, although why I should feel guilty I didn’t know. I hadn’t done anything wrong. All I’d done was confound his expectations and succeed at something.
He continued to peer straight at me. I could imagine him wondering; was I intelligent, or a cheat? It must have been impossible to tell, for after a minute Mr Hamilton stopped his scrutiny and simply said, “You may go.”
“Thank you, sir.” I said, preparing to leave.
“Yes. Well. And don’t forget to have your hair cut.”
“Short back and sides.”
“Regulation length,” he said curtly. “Short back and sides.”
Now, my hair wasn’t long or untidy, but it was a little eccentric. It was styled in a pompadour something like Elvis Presley used to wear, back in the 1950s. It was a sort of baby Viva Las Vegas, if I could explain it that way, except very blond and, me being only thirteen-years-old, without the sideburns.
My mom had liked it that way. She’d loved Elvis.
She’d taken me to get my last haircut…
My mom… her and my dad had only been dead three weeks… they’d gone to the movies and never come back… and now here I was in far off New Zealand, being told by some headmaster guy to get my hair cut.
It sure is a crazy world.
“Huh?” I repeated. “Short what and what?”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“All students,” Mr Hamilton intoned, “without exception, will comply with the regulations regarding hair length. The regulation, young man, is short back and sides."
He looked down at his work and waved me away, saying, “This discussion is ended. Report to me before assembly Monday morning. Be gone, boy.”