In eighth-grade science class, a girl stabbed me in the back with a sharpened No. 2 pencil. The teacher must not have arrived in the room yet, because my yelp would have stopped him in his tracks.
So, the girl got away with it.
I'm tempted to reveal, at long last, the stabber's name, but she's probably a respectable member of her community by now. As I look back on it, she was just trying to send me a message, but to quote a Bob Dylan song, she used a little too much force.
Chalk it up to being 13. Since this was a school that endured occasional fistfights in the parking lot across the street, a little pencil-stabbing incident barely would have registered.
But that was then. Were my hyper-aggressive classmate a student today in some Orange County schools, she'd be in a heap of trouble.
How do I know that? Because two 13-year-olds at Hewes Middle School in the Tustin Unified School District, in separate incidents, have been sent home for a day or two this month.
For stabbing other students with pencils? For cheating?
For violating the Santa Ana school's "hands-off" policy outlined in the Code of Conduct. Punching, pushing, kicking?
I think we're talking about hugging. Or some close cousin.
I have to qualify what I say, because school officials don't like to say flat-out that someone is suspended for hugging. Sounds a bit harsh, I think, even though hugging is one of the things banned in the students' handbook.
So, why not just say so?
Because, Hewes Principal Tracey Vander-Hayden insists, it isn't that clear-cut, even though one of the students and the mother of the other told the Orange County Register that excessive hugging was the reason for the suspensions.
The boy was suspended for repeatedly violating the conduct code, Vander-Hayden says. When I ask if the violations were for hugging, she says it wasn't exclusively for hugging, noting that the official reason given was for "defiance of authority." She concedes that repeated instances of inappropriate hugging were part of the boy's history but that there were "other citations outside of the hugging."
The girl was suspended for "violating the hands-off Code of Conduct," Vander-Hayden says, but won't specify what the girl did. She says it "had nothing to do with hugging," despite what the girl's mother told the Register.
The whole idea, Vander-Hayden says, is to prevent unwanted physical contact between students. I can't imagine anyone arguing with that, but it seems pretty clear that some instances of hugging between 13-year-olds probably represent much-wanted physical contact.
"There are a lot of students at my school who do not want to be hugged," Vander-Hayden says. "In a public school setting, you have to provide a safe environment for everybody."
District spokesman Mark Eliot, who was sitting in on the conversation, gets closer to what I think is the nub of the issue here: "Whether it's wanted or unwanted," he says, "it's not appropriate on a middle-school campus."
School officials realize that kids hug. They insist they don't bust students for the quick "hello" kind of hug. And even when staffers see serious big-time hugging, Vander-Hayden says, they tell the kids to knock it off. Only after repeat incidents and a visit with the parents does the specter of suspension enter the picture, she says.
What amazes me is that the issue is still around. I don't know whether to laugh or cry that I wrote about junior high hugging policies as far back as 1998. Kids did it then, and, lo and behold, they're still doing it now.
It's worth nothing that not all districts have anti-hugging policies. So, unlike rules against cheating or punching -- which would be universal on school campuses -- hugging is a judgment call.
I know why Hewes and other schools don't like it. For one thing, it's annoying to watch 13-year-olds in the grip of nascent lust. For another, it's easier to ban all hugging than to pick and choose. And I don't dispute their contention that not all students at that age welcome it, even if sometimes they may appear to.
So, in my ideal world, no hugging until high school.
But I have to also say that, in my ideal world, no suspensions for hugging or, even, technical variations thereof.
Is a day or two at home and out of the classroom the right price to pay for a hormonal attack?
Once you've been stabbed in the back, a hug just doesn't seem like a crime.
Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at email@example.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.