Jeffery Oicles Is Gone

March 3 was worse than I had thought. I just got word from his sister that my old friend Jeff Oicles also died that day. Jeff was my best friend in elementary school and much of high school. I often spent more time as his house than at my own. After high school, he went to UCLA and I went USC but we still saw each other often. We were groomsmen at each other’s wedding. But life pulled us in divergent directions until we reached the point that Christmas cards and very rare lunches were all that remained of our relationship. Well, they were almost all that remained of our relationship. We both had vivid memories of our childhood and youth that bound us together in ways that time and distance could not destroy.
We were good, if geeky, kids. But that didn’t keep us out of trouble. For a couple of years Jeff and I shared a locker that was next to the classroom door of a teacher that we didn’t know or like. Worse, she didn’t know or like us. We thought her an old, senile, paranoid and mean-spirited snitch which rhymes with b . . . From my current perspective, my guess she was in her forties. Considering what went in and out of our locker, she occasionally had good reason to question us, on one occasion a very good reason indeed.
Jeff’s father had an impressive antique gun collection including several mussel-loading matchlocks. Most of them were in working order and, once in a while, he would take us out to the desert to shot them. But a pistol, I’m not sure what kind, had a broken something in its firing mechanism. Jeff was taking metal shop at the time. In those days and at our school even so-called college bound students took one year of shop. Jeff got permission from the shop teacher to bring the broken gun to class to see if he could fabricate a replacement part as a class project. And, of course, before class, Jeff needed to put the gun somewhere. So he put it in our locker. The “old, senile, paranoid, mean-spirited snitch” saw him do it. The next thing I knew the Boy’s Vice Principal called me out of my first period class for a little visit. In my naivety, I had no idea why he summoned me but such visits were never good news. To the best of my memory, here is how the conversation went.
“Do you know there is a gun in your locker?”
“Is it yours?
“Is it Jeff’s?”
“Not exactly.”
“Why did he bring it?”
“To fix a problem in metal shop.”
I sensed the interview was not going well.
About this time, Jeff shows up in the company of the Principal and the gun. Jeff is trying to explain that the gun is dysfunctional but he hopes to be able to fix it in metal shop and that the shop teacher knows all about it. At that point, they summoned the shop teacher. He confirmed everything that Jeff and I had said. By then it was nearly lunchtime and we had missed two thirds of the day. Worse, Jeff had missed medal shop and was therefore deprived, for the time being, of the opportunity to turn a useless steel object into the dangerous weapon the administration and the snitch feared. They gave the gun over to the care of the shop teacher with instructions to look after it as long as it was at school. If I remember correctly, Jeff was unable to complete the project and had to do something else because of issues having to do with hardening of the newly fabricated part.
Looking back at this episode with the perspective of over fifty years and the specter of the results of students bringing guns to school, it is a wonder that no further disciplinary action was taken and that Jeff was allowed to attempt his project. As only teenage boys would think, we saw the whole thing as much to do about nothing. After all, the gun was broken and, even if it weren’t, we had no ammunition at school. What was the big deal we wondered? To which we answered, but only to each other, the big deal was the “old, senile, paranoid, mean-spirited snitch.”
And then there was the time that we got permission to take a day off from school to work on a science fair project at the beach. But that is another story involving a run-in with a different set of authorities. Suffice it to say that in those days people took truancy more seriously than they did guns. It’s a good thing we had a note from the Principal.
We had lots of fun growing up. It is with great fondest that I remember those days spent with Jeff and his family. At least Jeff’s death will give me the chance to catch up with his sister Kathy and brother Gerard.
Those were the days.
Update, March 14, 2010:
There’s an excellent obituary for Jeff in the San Diego Union Tribune.