Thursday, May 3, 2007

Kevin St. Jude Woczynski: The Draft-Dodging Phantom of Cardinal Dougherty High School

Olney’s massive and enormous Cardinal Dougherty High School has been the spawning ground of many strange and wonderful tales, many of them all too true, and one of the stangest is that of Kevin St. Jude Woczynski, the infamous “Phantom of CD High”.

When Kevin matriculated at Dougherty (hailing from St. Helena’s parish) in 1966, students were divided into twenty academic sections. The top three sections were known as “the Brains”, and had their own special egghead courses. The Brains divided the rest of the student populace into two other categories. Those in Sections 4-through-10 were called “the Animals”. Those unfortunates consigned to Sections 11-through-20 were given the unfortunate general appellation of “the Vegetables.”

Kevin St. J. Woczynski, based on official placement tests and his academic performance at St. Helena’s Parochial School (he'd been forced to repeat both the third and eighth grades), found himself placed in Section 20.

In truth, though, Kevin was not a stupid lad, he was merely gloriously uninterested in such things as classes and coursework. In fact by his freshman year at “CD” he was an avid reader, devouring not only an endless stream of science fiction but the heady books of Joseph Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Henry de Montherlant. And indeed he seemed content to while away his four-year high school sentence in Section 20 among those barely sentient "Vegetables", barely passing each year, and spending most of his time reading novels or merely dreaming at his desk.

Come 1969, the year of Kevin’s supposed senior and final year, and the Vietnam war was in full throttle, as was the military draft. The Brains had no worries, they were off to college and an academic deferment, and even most of the Animals could hope to get into a state or community college, there to drag out their college years until the end of hostilities. But what of the poor Vegetables, those in Sections 11-through-20 who were not remotely college material?

On Dec. 1, 1969, the first draft lottery since 1942 was held for young men born between 1944 and 1950. Kevin, born Dec. 30, 1950, drew number 3 on the list. He knew that as soon as he left school he was well and truly screwed, and it would only be a matter of time before he was humping a pack and an M-16 through the unpleasantly hot and dangerous jungles of “the Nam”.

It was far too late for Kevin to try to “get his grades up” and possibly make it into Philadelphia Community College. He had coasted through three-and-a-half years at Dougherty on a “gentleman’s D” and even a straight-A record for the latter half of his senior year would not remotely suffice.

Kevin devised a brilliant plan. Far from “buckling down”, he deliberately flunked every subject, even woodshop and auto-repair. Sent to summer school, he flunked every subject again. His parents petitioned Principal Father Howard, and Kevin was permitted to repeat his senior year. He spunkily raised his average to a C-minus his first semester, but inexplicably backslid and flunked all his subjects again that spring. Once more he was sent to summer school and once again he pulled a straight F. And again Kevin’s parents petitioned father Howard to give Kevin another chance, and the good father agreed. And, again, Kevin flunked that year's spring semester and its attendant summer school. After much pleading and crying from Kevin's parents (and a generous donation to the Cardinal Dougherty Horticultural Club) an increasingly suspicious Father Howard gave Kevin “one last chance to straighten up and fly right”.

The year was 1972. By now, Kevin, with his mature features, horn-rimmed glasses and bookish demeanour, was often mistaken for a lay teacher, both by students and newer faculty members alike. Many of his fellow pupils deferentially referred to him as "Mr. Woczynski." Others called him “The Phantom”, as he tended to appear in the halls suddenly from nowhere, and was often sighted in the back of classes in which he was not enrolled, calmly reading a slim volume of Mallarmé in the original. That fall semester saw Kevin flirting precariously with a C average...

But then came that glorious spring of ’73: somehow just when it seemed we would always be at war the draft was finally abolished and the US military withdrew from Vietnam.

Kevin St. Jude Woczynski pulled a straight A that final semester, and, finally, at the age of 22, marched up to the Civic Center podium with his classmates and received his high school diploma.

After graduation Kevin took the civil service exam, and he went to work for the post office. He is now retired and lives with his lovely wife Mindy in Wildwood, NJ, where his hobbies are birdwatching and reading.

Kevin St. Jude Woczynski, one man who beat the system: The Phantom of Cardinal Dougherty High School.

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to other "Tales of the O-Zone" and to the "Legends of the Schwarzwald Inn". You might also find amusement in our ongoing serialization of Railroad Train to Heaven (nihil obstat, Bishop Graham), the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, AKA "The Rhyming Brakeman of Nedro Avenue".)


Anonymous said...

I'm going post a comment more appropriate for the last post, but what the hell, I think it'll get past the sleepy moderator.

Saw Anney HAll last night on the big screen. Its aged well. It was very interesting to watch with a bunch of other people--mostly 20-somethings-- and hearing what they thought was funny.

My favorite scene is when Woody is taken a Shrink by his mother for his depression and general bad attitude in grade school. The doctor asks him what's on his mind, Alvey(Woody) explains his recent realization that the universe is expanding and that eventually everything will expand out of existence. The good doctor--with cigarette in hand--explains to Alvey that Brooklyn isn't expanding and anyway it'll take billions of years for everything to go away, the important thing is to try and enjoy life while you're here.

Dan Leo said...

Which is why I never go anywhere without a book to read.

Pierce Inverarity said...

I have a distant memory of Miss Evelyn Togar, who actually had Mr Wocynski in a Music Appreciation class during this period referring to him as a 'Sinister Machiavellian-type'. Sounds just like your typical future Postal employee.

Dan Leo said...

Poor Miss Togar; imagine facing the indomitable spectre of Kevin Woczynski in that same class for four years running. She had her own good reasons for rejoicing at the end of the draft.

Unknown said...

The plan is ingenious. Were I his mother, I'd have nagged him to keep flunking.
"Go watch TV."
"Go lie on your bed all afternoon and stare at the ceiling. Just make sure the door's closed and keep the tell-tale noises down."

When I was in 8th grade I managed to flunk a "speed reading" course.
The novel I chose was thin, though undoubtedly a bad translation. In any case, at 13 I found Camus's "The Stranger" "unskimmable."

Dan Leo said...

Reading "The Stranger" in an 8th grade speed-reading course. Now that's a short story all in itself!

Anonymous said...

Can't be true, as CD doesn't hold people back, that fail. They either are expelled or sent to summer school and no one fails summer school.

Dan Leo said...

No one, that is, except the "legendary" Kevin St. Jude Woczynski! (Who must have had a very persuasive mother, by the way.)