Film-Strips, Ventriloquism and Skipping Class – My Tenth-Grade Idol

I was nearly hit by a golf ball Sunday and I laughed, remembering one of the funniest guys I ever knew.  It was a scramble but apparently not fast enough for the guy behind us. We heard that unmistakeable plop you shouldn’t hear without “Fore!” yelled first.    After a couple quiet expletives aimed at the jerk, I told my buddy Dave about Jim, who would simply walk up to the errant ball, driver in-hand, and proceed to pound it into the fairway. Jim always did what I still just dream of doing.

He was a year behind me in tenth grade–and miles ahead of me in everything else.  He was hilarious in class, always ready with the funny observation–just skirting the edges of detention and making the teacher bust up.  But his two greatest skills were in the audio department.  He could, in one half hour, mess up a lesson-plan and get half a dozen people out of class legally.

Kids always look forward to a substitute anyway.  Word spreads fast in the hallways from friends who had the same class first hour.  “She’s easy…She’s mean…She falls asleep!”   In my history class we’d hear of the sick teacher and celebrate, just to watch Jim work, for we knew that the Robin to the sub’s Batman was inevitably the dreaded film-strip projector–the “Dukane of Death” we called it.

We’d walk into class and it would be waiting for us, like a boring vulture.


It was my destiny, even at fifteen, to become a video productions instructor as I would be assigned to open the little plastic canister and feed the 35mm film covering the Inca Empire, the construction of the pyramids or some other monotone-narrated topic.  It was a vital life-skill, my work.  The projector had to be coordinated with the other piece of the audio/video ensemble…

record player

As soon as the projector’s bulb started burning that toxic odor into the room, I’d advance the filmstrip until I saw the “Begin Record” and the show began.

Jim would sit strategically near the record player.  Then he’d wait patiently until the substitute made sure that we were on to slide #12 or so and would then return to her book.  Some other volunteer was enlisted for one job–to press the button when he’d hear the little “spoop” sound. 

I love YouTube, I actually found a video of one of these beauties–a classic docudrama on drug abuse–and you can hear the record hissing in the background.

That little “spoop” was Jim’s great gift.  He could not only imitate it perfectly, time it just between sentences for the narrator, but also–somehow–throw his voice and you’d swear it was coming from the record, not from the smirking kid surrounded by chuckling friends.

The Johnson-Smith ads in the comics used to fascinate me, particularly the ability to be a ventriloquist!

The Johnson-Smith ads in the comics used to fascinate me, particularly the ability to be a ventriloquist!

Meanwhile, the kid would just keep hitting that “next” button and before the record could be flipped , we’d see “The End” in two feet letters–while the narrator kept talking on the record–certainly not considering it the end.

The substitute, would look up, startled when the film advanced through completely and we were all staring at the blinding white screen.

“Hmm.  That took less time than last class.  Oh well, your teacher left a backup lesson plan in case we finished early…”

And that’s when Jim turned his talents to greater deeds.  He’d cup his hands over his mouth and make the airplane-pilot voice.  He even impersonated the crackle of the PA system clicking on.

school speaker

“Mrs. Johnson?” came Jim’s voice from the brown speaker high above our heads.

“Yes?” the puzzled sub would say.

“Can you please send Jim Benson to the office?”


“Jim Benson?” she’d inquire to the giggling class.  Jim would innocently raise his hand.  “I guess you’d better go.”

“Okay.  I’m going to take my stuff, okay?”

“I think that’s a good idea.”

By the end of the year I’m sure money changed hands.  For one day in April, when our teacher was out for a doctor’s appointment, the speaker clicked on…

“Mrs. Johnson.  Would you please send the following six students to the office..”

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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 10 years since then. Contact him at: He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion.

2 Responses to Film-Strips, Ventriloquism and Skipping Class – My Tenth-Grade Idol

  1. Tim Schoenherr says:

    The filmstrip was priceless. I am now scared straight. Poor Billy… I’m curious if it was the ingested telephone handset that caused his freakishly deformed ovaries, or if those were a direct result of the glue he sniffed?

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Hi Tim. I suspect it was either the sniffed-glue or some other toxic inhalant such as the aforementioned projector bulb or those smelly dittos we used to get. Either way, those filmstrips scared me on many levels!