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Advanced Biology



     It was fall, 1980.  My friends and I had somehow managed to survive our way to senior year at Saranac Lake High School.

     I wasn’t a great student in high school.  I never really studied or applied myself.  I copied more homework from the wickedly smart girls in my classes than I ever did on my own.

     I was, at least, smart enough to always sit behind one of them on test days.  Even with all my studiously willing senior co-ed co-conspirators, my grades as an SLHS student were fair to middlin’ at best.

     Math and science were the worst subjects for me. I was an abysmal math student. I managed fairly well in geometry, but algebra and trigonometry were complete mysteries.  Despite the best efforts of Mr. Peightal and Mr. LaGasse, I barely passed. I never dared even try taking calculus.

     I avoided earth science altogether.  Mr. Schroll’s chemistry class was nearly a Regents diploma hopes crushing disaster. I was such a bad chemistry student.  I was an even worse student than Mr. Schroll’s unending supply of really bad jokes. 

     I remember walking into the downstairs rooms where we took the dreaded “Regents”.  I opened that chemistry exam book and knew in one glance.  I was doomed.  I’m not sure I could have correctly answered more than two or three questions.

     I was in a panic. Our desks were too far separated for any last minute over the shoulder co-ed help.  I was never going to get into college if I failed the chem regents.  Guess I should have thought about that sooner. Regardless, I needed a rescue plan, and I needed it fast.

    It was a 100-point test. The first eighty questions were multiple choice, each worth one point.  I resigned myself to answering the few questions I could.  The questions were arranged on the answer sheet in either blocks of five or ten. I can’t quite recall now.  Each question had four choices: “a,b,c,d”, each in their own circle.  We used number two pencils to fill in our answers.

     I quickly recognized a pattern.  As I filled in my answers, I recognized what appeared to be the outline of a Christmas tree pattern.  So, I took a chance. I figured I had better odds of passing by filling in the pattern than guessing at answers.  So, I made a Christmas tree.

     My final score on the Chemistry Regents?


     Which brought me to senior year science class at Saranac Lake High School.  There I sat, with the rest of my aspiring college bound classmates, in Mr. Pond’s Advanced Biology class.

     I had already survived round one with Mr. Pond, Freshman Bio.  We dissected an earthworm. I actually did pretty well in that class.

     Mr. Pond was a living legend in school. He always punctuated his lectures with his favorite sayings “It’s All Biology” & “It’s great to be alive while regaling us with tales of his time as a student at “The Great University of Purdue”.

     I had no idea where Purdue was.  I had my sights set on Cornell.  I’d done really well on the SAT’s, had solid grades in English and Social Studies, an afterschool job and several extra-curricular activities to my credit.  I played several sports. I’d even somehow managed to get myself elected Senior Class President.  Still, I knew that to get into Cornell, my transcript grade point average more than likely still needed some help.

     Given my by then well documented lack of math and science acumen, I figured I stood a far better chance of getting a good grade in Mr. Pond’s Advanced Bio class than in Mr. Fogarty’s Physics class.  So, there I sat.  

     Senior year fall semester went pretty much according to plan, academically at least.  I wrote a term paper on Edgar Allen Poe for Mrs. Tolhurst in English class that she really liked. I was an ace social studies student. Madame Klein had not yet completely tired of my co-ed focused antics in 4th year Francais.  In Mr. Pond’s Advanced Biology class, my lab partner Jeff and I had successfully dissected our frog. So, my grades were up as I put the finishing touches on my hopes for a collegiate career at Cornell.

      Mr. Pond even added his own Letter of Recommendation to my cause. (Why? Good question. Those letters were sealed. I never did read it. What did he have to say about my prospects at Cornell as a student? I have no clue. You would have to ask him.  Whatever it was that he said though, it worked!)

     So as 2nd semester senior year went along, I was sitting pretty high in the saddle as my lab partner Jeff, and I prepared to dissect our Advanced Bio rat.

     While we never really hung out together or had the same friends outside of class, Jeff and I made great lab partners. He was a true character.  Everybody liked Jeff.  He was friendly to everyone, full of life, and absolutely hilarious.

     After each pair of lab partners picked out their rat, the first thing they had to do was skin it. We used sharp little scalpel like knives. As a hunter, I had some experience as a skinner. By that time, I’d skinned my share of snowshoe rabbits, partridges, ducks, Canada geese, even a deer.

     The one thing skinning a lab rat entailed that all the rest didn’t? Surviving that smell. That awful, nostril filling rotten graveyard stench formaldehyde smell.  It’s funny the things that stay with you through the years. I can still to this day remember that God Awful smell.  

     But Jeff and I both survived it.  We meticulously skinned our rat, right down to the skull. It even still had the whiskers and ears on it, and most of its paws.  So, there we sat in Mr. Pond’s Advanced Bio lab class, with one perfectly good rat skin, and one soggy formaldehyde saturated skinless dead rat. 

     It seemed criminal to let that perfectly good rat skin go to waste. I’m not sure who’s idea it originally was, but Jeff and I made a plan.

     All the rat skins were supposed to go in the trash.  Jeff and I had other ideas. We somehow stealthily salvaged ours. One of us secretly stowed it in his locker until we could execute our plan. 

     We rendezvoused after school that day in one of the upstairs boy’s bathrooms.  We stuffed our rat skin full of those coarse brown school bathroom paper towels. We snuck into the girl’s bathroom and put our rat, face up, peeking out of the toilet, in one of the stalls.  Then we just as stealthily beat our retreat.  This was going to be the caper of the century. Some Saranac Lake High School girls would see it and scream. It would be absolutely hilarious! Or so we both thought.

     The next morning, we arrived for home room and the announcements. The voice over the loudspeaker said, 

“Will the following students please report immediately to the Main Office”

Jeff and I looked at each other and gulped. Our names had just been called. We were both baffled. We were SURE we hadn’t been seen!  Who could have ratted us out?!

       We soon found out. We ended up in Dr. Houth’s office. Never a good sign.  Apparently one of the cleaning ladies encountered our rat while cleaning the girl’s bathrooms. She did not find it funny. Instead, she screamed and fainted.

      Turned out that Jeff and I had the only black & white spotted rat in Mr. Pond’s Advanced Bio lab class.   All the other lab rats were either all black or all white. Jeff and I had forgotten that fact. Mr. Pond had not.

We got ratted out by our own lab rat!

     Cost us each a two-day internal suspension.

Hey, live and learn. As the illustrious Mr. Pond would say:

“It’s All Biology.”


Until Our Trails Cross Again,