Keep on scuffin’

Work in Progress By Ivan Morgan

When I walk in boots, I scuff my heels. That is to say I drag my heels in a loud way. Especially in snow boots.

I didn’t even know I was doing it until I was in my teens. I boarded at my school in Ontario, and my housemaster hated kids who scuffed. Seriously.

The punishment for minor infractions for boys in those days (it was an all-boys school) was the defaulter. One defaulter meant you had to report to the “Lower Field” at six a.m. and spend an hour carrying large rocks from one end of a football field to the other. Failure to appear? Two more.

Mr. Smith (I will call him that as that was his name) was determined to stop me scuffing. If he caught me, I was “on” – meaning serving one defaulter. Suffice it to say I carried a lot of early morning rocks that year.

The guy would lay in wait for me, jump out, rant about scuffing and zing me with another defaulter. I’d scuff just to piss him off, and it did.

Why didn’t I just stop scuffing? I could never stand rules – still can’t – unless there is a reason.

The Globe and Mail, once Canada’s national newspaper, has a quote on its editorial page that’s been there since its founding in 1844. “The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.” That’s highfalutin talk meaning you owe it to us all to stand up for your rights and freedoms. Don’t get pushed around. Rules and laws must have a sound reason. To hell with rules for the sake of rules. To hell with using power because you have it. I can’t scuff because you don’t like it? Up yours.

When we were issued a defaulter, a reason had to be listed on the defaulter’s form. Time and again my forms said, “deliberate provocativeness.” You bet!

There’s an old saying that goes my right to swing my arm ends at the tip of your nose. In other words, I am free to do or say what I want so long as I don’t infringe on your freedoms. I can do what I want so long as I don’t stop others from doing what they want. Like scuffing.

In my last job I was told I had to take so many vacation days a year. I had to. I questioned why? Why couldn’t I bank them all? Technically, I argued, vacation is my pay. Does government have the right to legislate what I do with my pay? I was told in the history of the Newfoundland civil service I was apparently the first person who ever questioned this. I was also told if I didn’t take those days I would “lose” them. Basically, I would be docked my pay if I did not take a vacation. No reason given.

Before I could find out what would really happen, the corporate folks complained to my boss, a formidable person in her own right. She came into my office, closed the door, stared into my eyes, and said “Let. It. Go.”

I let it go.

But the instinct to scuff is still strong in me.

I am all about rules with a reason. Don’t run red lights. Dial before you dig. Look before you leap.

But I cannot abide rules for the sake of rules. I will not blindly respect authority.

I hate offering advice to young people. I was offered all kinds of good advice when I was young and paid no heed to any of it. My Mom would sigh and ask, “Why do you have to learn everything the hard way?”

Don’t tell me what to do.

However, were I to offer advice to young people, it would be this: Question authority. Scuff to your hearts content.

I look around at the state of this place these days and think we all need to scuff more.

How long can I carry a grudge? Mr. Smith died 20 years ago. If you see me up to Walmart this winter, odds are you will hear me scuffing long before you see me.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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