It was a dark and stormy night.
Okay, it was actually a warm and muggy night in the late Spring of 1979. The cast of "Harvey," the junior/senior class play directed by English teacher extraordinaire Cheryl Miller, was practicing in the Ringgold High School library, which was then located at the front of the building on the second floor. (And probably still is, for all I know—I haven’t set foot in the building in 20 years.)
We were in the library because we couldn’t use the gymnasium/auditorium for some reason that evening. I don’t remember why. Probably something having to do with the Future Farmers of America. Everybody but me was upset about the fact that we didn’t have access to our usual rehearsal space. After three years of playing basketball under Jerry Jones, I was used to being kicked out of the gym.
Anyway, for whatever reason, the entire cast was assembled in the library—including the star of the show, Paul Warren, who was playing a character that everyone else thought was crazy. It wasn’t exactly a stretch.
Mrs. Miller was there, too, growing more frustrated by the moment. We probably weren’t the most cooperative cast in the best of circumstances, and practicing in the library was hardly the best of circumstances. When we first began rehearsals early in the spring, I would have described Mrs. Miller as an attractive woman in her mid-thirties. By the time the show had finished its run, she looked 53.
Because it was so warm, and the Catoosa County Board of Education apparently didn’t see fit to run the air conditioning after regular school hours, play or no play, we had opened the library windows. These were long, narrow windows, at least six feet high, with sills only a couple of feet off the floor. They were hinged on the side, like doors, and opened outwards.
At some point during the rehearsal, Mrs. Miller had finally had enough of Paul’s shenanigans. (There. I’ve always wanted to write the word “shenanigans.”) She spoke to him sharply—I would say “yelled,” but I don’t think she had the strength at that point. Paul responded by folding his arms across his chest and sticking out his lower lip in a fake pout. Or a real one. It was impossible to tell with Paul.
He stared at her like that for several moments, said, “Well! I don’t have to take this!” then wheeled and walked directly to the nearest open window, arms still folded on his chest. Without looking back, he stepped up onto the sill and disappeared into the North Georgia night.
We were stunned. Actually, I could have sworn I heard Mrs. Miller utter a prayer of thanksgiving under her breath, but the rest of us were stunned. We all just stood there, looking out that open window, unable to believe we had just seen our friend and classmate hurl himself out a second-story window.
And then, before anyone could rush over to the window or even say a word, up popped Paul. He was wearing that big, goofy grin of his with his hands thrown up Steve Martin style. I think he said something like, “I’m back,” and laughed maniacally. But I don’t really remember. We were all too shocked, not to mention relieved. Except Mrs. Miller, of course. I think she fainted.
As we soon came to realize, the window out of which Paul had “hurled himself” overlooked the covered walkway in front of the school—and the roof of that walkway was only a few feet below the edge of the sill. Paul, having previously scoped out the area, knew this very well, and was only waiting for the right moment to put that knowledge to use, twisted comic genius that he was.
When Mrs. Miller, unbeknownst to her, provided the perfect cue, Paul went to the window, stepped up on the sill, and jumped down onto the walkway roof, immediately dropping to all fours as he hit. This made it appear to the rest of us as if he had fallen all the way to the ground. When he popped back up it seemed as though he was levitating, which really confused us. We all knew he was no angel.
Anyway, to this day that’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in person. I’m not sure if my cast-mates still remember it, but I know I’ll never forget. And I’m pretty sure Mrs. Miller will never forget, either. She should only be in her late 50’s or early 60’s by now. I understand you can still write to her, care of the Shady Rest Sanitarium, Soddy Daisy, TN 37379.