A Story of Aldo

Recently, I was witnessed to some teasing of someone that was rather unfair. I don't engage in teasing very much, maybe because of an incident that happened to me in summer school back in 1985. Names have been changed to protect... well, you'll see.

I took High School Chemistry in the summer. I did this because I hated the teacher at my school, I wanted the extra credits (this was not a repeat class, but a college level one), and my parents forced me to go to summer school every year anyway just to get me out of the house. The upshot of this was, instead of a 1 hour class every day for 9 months, I took 6 weeks of 8 hour classes. Most of the kids with me were honor students taking the class for the same pre-college credit reasons.

We were grouped into tables of 4 students each, and at my table was Mike, a football player who wanted to take as much college credit ahead of time as possible so he could focus more on the game when he got to college. He was a smart and overall nice guy, but still had some traces of the typical male behavior of a 16-year old jock.

Another table had some guy named Aldo, who was a husky male with dark hair, acne, and a penchant for being annoying. He was the type of kid who made bad and often inappropriate jokes at random times that made us all wince or tell him to shut up. Even the teacher lost his temper with Aldo. His table hated him, mostly because he would screw up things, and act like he didn't care, or that it was funny. About three weeks into the program, we all really hated him, because this course was tough, and the teacher was really good, so we weren't here to just screw around. But Aldo was the scratch in the record, the fly in the ointment. It had gotten to the point where people would openly verbally abuse him.

Mike was no exception as disliking Aldo, and his favorite prank was to make Xerox copies of signs or insulting pictures, and tape them to Aldo's back. Even though this was done several times daily, Aldo wouldn't find out for hours, and thought that people were laughing at his jokes, not the sign on his back. The last sign I remember was from an illustration of Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends" where a man's head was on his butt.

About halfway into the program, we were doing labs with ammonia. Now, we didn't get it from a bottle, for some reason it had to be created in the lab at the back of the room. We would have to go back to the place where it was "cooking," and fill an air syringe or plunger with the gas (or liquid, depending on what the lab was). It stank. Oh my God, did it stink. It made our eyes water, and when the ventilation fan wasn't working properly, we'd have to take frequent breaks in the hallway. The main part of this story starts on one of those days.

It probably goes without saying that Aldo was also a poor student. While this came as no surprise, we didn't know the extent of his ignorance past his problem with remembering to put on his goggles. I guess Aldo was thinking about this next act for a while, because his timing couldn't have been better. He simply went to the back, filled an air syringe with ammonia gas, and snuck up behind Mike. He tapped Mike on the shoulder, and when Mike turned around, Aldo jammed the syringe up Mike's nose and pushed the plunger.

Mike must have gotten about half a pint of pure ammonia gas injected into his sinuses. Of course, Mike gasped in shock, which dragged the poisonous gas into his lungs. Now, I was in the hall when this happened, but one of the girls at my lab table said that Mike gasped, fell off his stool, collapsed to the floor, and started convulsing. It created quite a noise, and luckily, the teacher was close by to react. All I heard was a crash, some gasps of shock from other students, a pause, and then my teacher screaming to someone, "YOU, CALL AN AMBULANCE NOW!! CALL 911!! RUUUNNN!!" Several girls ran from the classroom, and right down to the office. All of us in the hall forgot about the stink and ran in the classroom to see a circle of students around Mike, who was having seizures. Mike's face was splotched with patches of blue and greenish yellow, and huge globs of bloody mucus were all over his face and on the floor. My teacher was shouting things for students to get out of the way, and we all piled out into the hallway. Then the teacher told us to gather into the other classroom (we had two, one for labs, one for movies) and stay there. He was furious. Our teacher grabbed Aldo (he was still holding the syringe), and dragged him into the back room and told him to stay there.

The ambulance came, and they must have taken Mike away. We heard a lot of screaming by our teacher, and a lot of screaming and crying by Aldo. We heard other voices as well, and saw some police. Then it was quiet for a while, and then our teacher, who looked like hell, came in and told us that class was over for the day, and to go home. Most of us were bussed to the school, so we just waited in the library and until the bell rang. Some of us talked quietly and speculated about the incident, but most of us were too stunned to say anything.

Mike was in the hospital for about a week, and had to drop the class (if you missed 3 days, you were out, no matter what). Aldo was expelled, and I never heard whether he got criminally prosecuted, although the scuttlebutt was that he was arrested on the scene and was up for attempted manslaughter. One of the people who witnessed this horror told me that Aldo was whining that he just thought ammonia stunk, that it wasn't poisonous. The next day was fairly harsh. Our teacher made us watch all the safety films he could get his hands on. I was the projectionist, and dealing with some of these films was awful, because they were old, stiff, overspliced, and the typical gamut of films from the 1950s to the 1970s. Normally, if we were watching films, it was only 2-4 a day on average, and that was bad enough. Now I had maybe 30-50 films ranging from 5 minute shorts to 30 minute features. When we ran out, he made us watch them again. He was still mad, and we didn't think he should have been mad at us, but I guess he figured that we were the ones that drove Aldo over the edge.

I, along with everyone I spoke with, was under the opinion that Aldo wasn't out to kill Mike, but simply to get even in a non-deadly way. We think that Aldo was fairly ignorant that ammonia was a poison in the bloodstream, and even though none of us could remember if that was ever specifically said, we all agreed that it was, or should have been, common knowledge. I think a lot of us felt guilty about it, because we did tease Aldo a lot. Apart from an announcement that Mike was going to be okay, the incident was never brought up again after that dreadful day.

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