Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Doom That Came To Hippo

Being a hippopotamus is more perilous than you might think.

I was in English class. It must have been sixth grade, because I had Ms. Green for a teacher. Poor, poor Ms. Green. So, yeah, there I was, in sixth grade English class.

The thing is, I took sixth grade English in fifth grade. Then, for reasons that I’m not sure I ever completely understood, I took sixth grade English again in sixth grade. And I enjoyed it a lot more in fifth grade – not just because it was the first time I’d had it, but also because I’d liked that teacher much better than I liked Ms. Green.

Poor, poor Ms. Green.

So we came into the classroom, and we took our seats, and Ms. Green announced that we’d be doing some creative writing. And she handed out copies of a worksheet.

This was not a sixth-grade worksheet. It was, to my jaded sixth grade eyes, barely even a fourth grade worksheet. At the top was a fanciful drawing of a hippopotamus sitting in – and slightly overflowing – an old-fashioned bath tub. Beneath that was the writing assignment:

The hippo is stuck in the tub! How can we get him out?

And beneath that was a series a brief lines where we could write our answers. They’d even included a helpful writing prompt on the first line: Grease the hippo with Crisco! Just, y’know, to give you some idea of what kind of answers they were expecting.

To say I was insulted would be an understatement of epic proportions. I regarded this assignment with the profound and unshakable contempt of a twelve-year-old who has just been asked to do kid stuff. The sheer effrontery of it all left me speechless. This lèse-majesté I could not, would not forgive. And so I decided to express my... displeasure.

Poor, poor Ms. Green.

So I took a fresh sheet of paper from my desk. At the top, I copied over the assignment: “The hippo is stuck in the tub! How can we get him out?” I paused for a moment, to further consider this affront to my dignity.

And then I wrote the most violent, gory, horrific story that my twelve-year-old mind could produce. In the whole history of the world, no fictional hippopotamus has ever suffered as this hippo suffered – and all for the unforgivable crime of getting stuck in my bath tub. I enumerated the tools of his demise in loving detail: the vast array of martial arts weaponry, the gardening tools, the machine shop equipment. I described the feel of blades entering hippo flesh, the splut of impact, the gouts of blood and gobbets of flesh that littered the floor and splattered across the walls and ceiling. I explained the painstaking process of extracting the hippo from the tub, one organ at a time. It’s possible that I even included the hippo’s cries for mercy and last, desperate gasps for breath.

Poor, poor Ms. Green.

It was, quite simply, the most profoundly disturbing piece of writing that I was then capable of producing. It perfectly expressed my absolute contempt for the entire idea of that assignment. It sent - I thought - a very clear message that I expected never to be given such an abjectly stupid assignment ever again.

It might – just maybe possibly might - have gone a bit overboard.

Because the next thing I remember is my parents asking if I’d had trouble in English class. And then there were meetings. Meetings with Ms. Green. Meetings with the person in charge of fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. Meetings with the school counselor.

Everyone was relieved to hear that I was not, in fact, contemplating any sort of actual, real-world violence. They were rather less concerned about whether I was planning some sort of anti-hippopotamus rampage, but I reassured them about that too. This was before school shootings became a regular news item, so we didn’t have any No Tolerance policies to deal with, so once everyone was clear that I was just expressing my disgust with the in-class writing assignment, it was pretty much over. They didn’t even move me to a different English class, so the next day I was right back in my desk with Ms. Green.

Poor, poor Ms. Green.

Poor, poor hippopotamus.


  1. If you wrote something like that now you'd be carted off to a psychiatrist. There would be questions about whether or not you tortured small animals. Did you ever tie two cat's tails togther and set off firecrackers? Did you enjoy it? What do you see when you look at this ink blot? How about this one? You'd need years of treatment to overcome the treatment.

  2. Yeah. Even at the time I very fortunate that the powers-that-be weren't prone to panic or hysteria.

  3. Yeah, I gotta say, if I got a paper like that as a result of a writing assignment, I would be freaked out. Poor Ms. Green.


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