Telling the tale of the telephone game reminded me of the rhythm problem I encountered in elementary school. Teacher was trying to introduce the concept of rhythm and music so we could learn to sing the national anthem when the occasion arose, which wasn’t very often in first grade, however, we were all expected to grow up eventually.

I should explain here, that as a pre-schooler, I had been given my own 78 rpm record player, and a record album of eight of the best-known marches by John Phillip Sousa, a set of the Light Operas by Gilbert and Sullivan, including “The Pirates of Penzance,” and the short symphonic piece called “Scheherazade.” The other pupils were not so lucky.

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Teacher had us all sit at our little desks, with ruler held in our right hand, and then led us through a cadence of BUMP bump bump bump, BUMP bump bump bump, BUMP bump bump bump, and so forth, and we were all supposed to keep time with our own ruler, banging it against our little desktop, all together, all in cadence, BUMP bump bump bump.

As you may have guessed, that got boring real quick, and so I got out my other ruler and started decorating the rhythm with a filigree or counter-bump, such as BUMPa diddley-UMP bah, BUMPa-diddley-UMP bah, YUMP-a-ticky DUMP bah, YUMP-a- ticky DUMP bah, DIDDLEY-O, DIDDLEY-O Rumpa-Tumpa, Rumpa-Tumpa, YUM – DIDDLEY – ZAPPA – DAPPA – DOO.

The expression on teacher’s face was a sight to behold, so I stopped what I thought was a fascinating foray into the unknown paths and byways of rhythm land, but clearly struck teacher as a vicious personal attack and a direct challenge to her authority. When my mother came to pick me up after school, she was asked to stay for a moment and speak to the principal.

The principal noted that my behavior in rhythm and music had been described as provocative, obstructive, and clearly showed a lack of self-control and respect for others, and could probably be corrected by my spending the entire summer at a special summer session designed for the truculent, the wayward, and the truly disadvantaged or disabled, all supported by a recent grant-in-aid from the National Education Foundation.

So, the cost of my being different was I lost my summer of playing pick-up softball on the vacant corner lot, making model airplanes, flying kites and eating hot dogs at the local zoo. The wages of social non-conformity are as painful as the wages of sin. I did learn how to make buttermilk as a class project that summer, I but have never understood why anyone would want to do that to milk.

There is always a cost to being different. However, it still strikes me as strange that when things don’t seem to be going smoothly in school, they have you to do more of the same, rather than trying something else for a while.

Orrin Frink is a Kennebunkport resident. He can be reached at

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