Ten-Letter Network

While drugs, booze, and sex led the high-school vices, we smuggled letters: a through e, the answers to mundane social-studies quizzes. Mr. Fleischmann, gaunt and birdlike, expected us to memorize names and dates, who did what to whom. Instead whoever had to study that week kept track of the minutiae, plus his or her 10 letters. The rest of us would become messengers, creeping through the halls, passing apparent gibberish in hushed tones: "acaadebcda," "dbcacbdeae." The other class would return the favor the next time they got quizzed first.

Eventually, getting away with it became passť. We dissolved the network, never mentioning it in the yearbooks. "Have a nice summer" took over as our code words. Shortly thereafter, my girlfriend Kara Waters would kiss some other guy on a church trip. Years later, Mr. Fleischmann would hover over me at the grocery store. Under his breath, he would peck an incomprehensible sketch of answers.

Daniel M. Shapiro


Fueled by kickball prowess, Daniel M. Shapiro (
danshapiro@msn.com) became an elementary-school sports legend.