A Student of Politics

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Student of Politics

Politician and idiot are synonymous terms.” -Mark Twain

“In closing, I encourage you to vote for me as Student Body President.  I promise that my efforts will encourage you to do better.  I feel that, with us encouraging each other, we can put the ‘study’ back in ‘study’.  Thank you.”

“Thank you Miss Hepnaut”, Principal Dean said as he took the microphone out of the young girl’s hands.  “That was very… encouraging.”  The blonde gathered her small stack of papers, confidently shook the Principal’s hand, curtseyed to the awkwardly silent crowd, and walked back to the folding chair that had sat unattended for the last twelve minutes.

Principal Dean coughed.  The staff that had worked around him the last five years knew that, on purpose or not, the man coughed whenever he was irritated.  With his retirement only three years away, he was often mistaken for a smoker.

“Now”, he said, and then paused to cough.  “We have our other candidate who will give his speech.  I will remind Mr. Spednu to stick to the format and guidelines that we discussed.”  At this, Principal Dean furrowed his brow, looked over the top of his glasses, and locked onto Jerry Spednu.  He coughed.  “That is understood, is it not Mr. Spednu?”  The dangerous tone in Principal Dean’s voice made it clear that this was not a question, and if it was, there was only one correct answer.

“Why Donald Dean, you wound me!”  Laughter erupted from the assembled students.  They had sat for far too long listening to potential treasurers and secretaries boring them to death while their butts began to fall asleep on the hard wood bleachers.  Half the crowd had pulled out their phones, despite the warnings before that such activities would be dealt with harshly.  The two thousand students looked around at the forty-seven faculty members and knew the odds were in their favor.

The hot new couple of the week hid in the top right corner.  They kissed, groped each other, and generally blocked out all other activity.  The jocks in the middle threw spitballs at the school’s reporters, the only ones sincerely paying attention.  All in all, it was the typical student assembly.  Whether the teenagers liked it or not, they were forced to attend this lesson in politics and civil responsibility.  That didn’t mean they were going to pay attention.   They all focused on their own little worlds.  Then Jerry Spednu started swaggering towards the podium.

“Mind your p’s and q’s, Mr. Spednu”, the Principal said as he reluctantly handed off the totem of power and amplitude.

“Would you get piqued?  What if I quip? Would you commemorate a plaque?”  Two seconds after attaining the microphone and Jerry was already winning over the crowd.  “Did I mind those p’s and q’s well enough, Sir?”

“Proceed cautiously”, Principal Dean replied.  He wanted to head back to his wood chair (folding chairs were for students, not a man like Donald Dean), but the administrator knew that he had to be ready for anything the young upstart might do.

“Good morning Vietnam”, Jerry yelled, with each syllable becoming more enthused than the last.  The crowd cheered back, not understanding what a foreign country had to do with them.  Jerry Spednu was on stage, and that was all they needed to know.

Jerry was smart, but not in the education system-approved sense.  It was clear that he understood most of the material that was presented to him, and he even had a few A’s on his transcript despite all his efforts to keep that from being so.  No, it was the social aspect of Jerry that showed his true genius.  Jerry knew how to work the schoolyard.  He wouldn’t date any of the girls, but he’d happily borrow one for a dance as their boyfriends looked on in irritation.  He’d take a girl to a party, yet it was never certain that she would have a ride home.

Nothing appeared to stick to Jerry.  In a world where a bad haircut made you an outcast for the next two years and where the wrong backpack would get you beaten up, Jerry had escaped unscathed.  His leather jacket that his dad had given him from the sixties was the first indicator that he was in a cool clique all his own.  He had a Zippo lighter that he though went well with the jacket, except for the times when the administration confiscated the incendiary device from him.  Thanks to a maintenance man who liked free DVDs, Jerry also had a copy of all the important school keys, and he would reacquire his lighter whenever he pleased.  Jerry came across as cool, untouchable, and one entertaining person to watch.

“Now, I know what you’re all thinking”, Jerry said as he walked out from behind the two-wheeled podium.  “You have other things you’d rather be doing.  Kate, Buddy; you know what I’m talking about!”

The new couple came up from air just long enough to cheer, then went back to their making out.

“These are my kinds of people!  These are the guys that I’m here to represent.  The teachers are here to make you study.  They’re old, that’s fine.  But us?  We’re not old yet!  And if you want a party candidate, then don’t you think you should have one that knows how to party?”

As expected, the crowd cheered back in appreciation.  The jocks started slamming their feet down like some out-of-synch rhythm section.  Those around them joined in, hoping for some bonus points to be added to their reputation.  The odds of it succeeding were slim, but popularity was worth the risk.

“I think school is about finding yourself, rebelling against those that would try to keep you down.  You gotta be like John McClane!”

A confused silence met Jerry’s cheering.  The thousands of bleacher-warmers wanted to applaud, but they held off, hoping for some explanation.

“Dudes”, Jerry said, quite shocked.  “John  McClane?  He was like the ultimate guy.  James Bond meets Jason Bourne.  And why do those guys all have J-names, anyways?”

The students laughed along, but their hearts clearly weren’t in it.

“You really don’t know what I’m talking about?  Bruce Willis?  Look, the guy takes down terrorists in a skyscraper.  It’s got Severus Snape as a bad guy.  Y’know what; whether you vote for me or not, we’re all having a Die Hard party.  You guys’ll love it.  Yipee kay-yah, Mother F….”  Jerry paused as he saw the Principal come closer.  “…aaather.  Mother Father”, he said with a wink.

Principal Dean stepped forward as the students cheered and stomped some more.  The man in the ill-fitting suit coughed.  Jerry made a, “mea culpa” gesture and cleared his own throat.

“I can see that our esteemed head honcho wants me to wrap up.  Let me simply make sure we’re all on the same page.  This girl wants us to spend more time on community efforts”, Jerry said, pointing to his opponent.  “I think we’re doing just fine.”  Applause met his statement.  “This girl thinks that we should invoke fines or detention if we’re caught littering.  I propose that if you don’t pick up your own garbage; expect a visit from my fist.  We’re stuck in this school; let’s keep it looking better than WestSide High.”  Predictably, jeers and boos were hurled at the mere mention of the school’s bitter rivals.  “And finally, this girl thinks we should put the ‘study’ back in student body.  Well I think you guys should vote for a ‘stud’.  Doesn’t that sound better?”

The Principal made his way to Jerry and stood imposingly close.  “I trust, since you haven’t said anything of any true merit, that you are done?”

“How about a closing remark?”

Principal Dean stood there for a moment.  He thought over the situation.  Part of him knew that he should say no, but there was a part of him that was curious what the lad had in store.  In the end, his curiosity won out and the mediator took a few steps back.

“My fellow student; I have one last comment before I leave you to consider what I have said here today.  We have ourselves a fine school.  We all know we have some fine looking girls.”  Hoots and whistles echoed back to Jerry, but he waved them off.  “You gusy know that we are responsible for doing our part to make this little world of ours better.  We only have four years here until things get serious.  Maybe it is time we considered what we could do to improve ourselves, to really grow as a community before we are all torn apart.  To quote that fantastic show, LOST, ‘If we don’t learn to live together, we’re going to die alone’.”

A somber quiet fell over the gymnasium.  It was a sound unheard since the memorial for departed students fifteen years ago.  No buttons were pressed on phones, no gum was snapped; no one even moved nervously in their seats.  There was only silence.  For a brief, ethereal moment, all minds were focused on the wise words that had just been delivered to them.

Principal Dean couldn’t believe it.  He actually felt himself choking back tears.  Words like these were normally only spoken at graduation, and even then they were rarely communicated so passionately.  There had been a pleading in Jerry’s voice that Principal Dean didn’t know the boy was capable of.  He started to wonder if he hadn’t judged the boy too harshly over the years.

And then Jerry spoke again.

“That’s why we’re partying tomorrow night!!!”  The high ceilings of the building rattled and filled with a deafening applause.  “We’re gonna live fast and we’re gonna live hard!  Just like John McClane!  Details will be given when the suits aren’t around.  There’ll be drinks, swimsuits, and sun.  Who’s with me?”

The next five minutes were unbridled chaos.  Principal Dean grabbed the microphone back and demanded order.  The students wouldn’t stop celebrating.  They threw their books in the air and shook their friends with violent enthusiasm.  It was soon evident that the mindless horde wouldn’t settle down until their leader was removed.  There was no reasoning with this crowd.

The head administrator grabbed the troublemaker by the famous jacket collar and marched him out the door.  The other forty-six staff members slowly got the students back to their classrooms.  Jerry pumped his fists with enthusiastic rebellion all the way to Principal Dean’s office.  The man coughed violently as he locked the door and headed back to his high-backed chair.  High school, he thought to himself with a sigh.  It’s just like real politics.

Brown Bagging It

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

(Once again, kiradault was knice enough to provide a topic to write about.  She’s kind like that.  See for yourself.)

Brown Bagging It

My school lunches could be described in one word; compartmentalized.  Admittedly, that is a rather long word to describe a bologna and cheese sandwich, but it still fits.  In the three years I spent in high school, I can recall many a memory.  I could talk all about how I got my first, and so far only, black eye because I lost a fight with a chair.  (To be fair, it was a pitch black room and that chair was an obstinate jerk.)  I could talk about the girl who ran up to me and asked me to help her out of her dress.  (It was a scene change during a one-act play, do not get too excited.)  But I can not remember one single time that I bought lunch at the school’s cafeteria.

I always pondered what the school’s offerings would taste like.  I never had tater tots or nachos of my own.  I did not once stand in line to buy a pizza.  Now, having to provide for myself as a mostly-functioning adult, I do not think that I was missing out on much.  I assume that the tater tots were the typical grease-globs that one comes across.  The temporary crunching that occurs right before its components break down and dissolve on one’s tongue were probably a poor reward for the coating of grease that would shimmer and coat a child’s formally dry finger.  (That is all assuming that the slathering of ketchup on the tot did not accelerate the decomposing process.  Ketchup, an all-consuming flavor in its own right, only adds to the moistness of the tot and makes the resistance of the outer skin that much less satisfying for a kid’s teeth to chomp through.)  If I had to guess, I would figure that the pizza was probably no better than the microwave variety available now.  I do not remember seeing a golden tinge to the individual-sized circles.  I would imagine that the top layer, made up entirely of cheese and nothing else, probably tried to slide off of the tomato paste with the first bite.  I did not pay attention to the other kids while eating so I will choose to believe that the cheese slid off in one collective sheet when one tried to take their first bite of their pizza while holding it close in their small hands.

No, mine was an entirely pre-assembled parcel.  The carrier, as always, was a brown paper bag.  I, being an early nut for recycling, tried to convince my mother that this wrinkled mass of wrinkly, crackily paper was like a pair of good jeans; it should be broken in.  I tried to patch each tiny hole with duct tape (which you can thank MacGyver for), reasoning that it would just last that much longer.  The trees could be saved if only we could maintain the structural integrity of this bag that had been folded and crumpled into submission.  She ignored my entirely logical protests and would hand me a new bag filled with food.  Logic in the adult world is much different than logic in the teenage world.  I felt she was being resistant to my brilliance.  She probably felt that a bundle of a thousand paper bags easily cost less than a roll of duct tape and she still had a massive stash of them to draw from.

The actual lunch was a testament to the wonders of plastic.  Trying to get a teenager to keep track of Tupperware containers is laughable.  We all know this.  My mother did not even try.  The fruit was placed in a small sandwich bag.  The crackers were placed in a sandwich bag.  And, as one would hopefully deduce, the sandwich was placed in a sandwich bag.

My lunch was always a bit different than my siblings’.  They might have an orange in theirs, but I had to have apples.  (Today I maintain that it is because of my adamant loyalty to Washington.  And I think pulp is gross.  Plus there’s that overpowering smell.  Clearly apples are the superior choice.)  My mother was kind enough to comply with my demands.  Not only were apples put in my lunch, but much of the time I had pre-sliced apples; no core or seeds to slow me down.  She sprinkled some mystery white powder on them so that they were still crisp and robust when I got ahold of them.  Quite often I would bite half a slice and spend scant seconds as a toucan with an apple-slice beak.

She also indulged me with my sandwiches.  My brother and sister were quite fine with peanut butter and jelly.  I wanted no part of their pro-nut agenda.  I did not like nuts, I did not like Almond Joys, and I did not like peanut butter.  (The exception to that rule was the little cracker sandwiches; the ones with the orange crackers?  Those were simply too good to pass up and I devoured them without explanation.  I was too busy letting the orange crumbs fall silently on my shirt as the cracker broke and shattered into little pieces in my mouth.)

My sandwiches were specially made.  They would consist of a slice of Ovenjoy or Wonderbread, a slice of Oscar Mayer bologna, a slice of Kraft America cheese, and then a second slice of bread.  The end.  Every day I would eat that same sandwich.  This went for five (or more) days a week, probably for eighteen years.  There were no surprises with my sandwich.  I would pick it up and it would respond by lying limply in my hand.  I did not care how robustly the food held up, there were no surprises.  No magic pickles were going to appear in my hand, there was no mustard to suddenly start dripping.  There were only three ingredients and they all stayed in their places like good little ingredients.  If I was feeling extra stern, I would squish down my sandwich to one third the thickness of its original composition.  I told myself that getting all that air out of the bread just made it easier to digest.  I ignored the fact that it looked like someone had sat on my lunch.  When it came time to chew, a toddler would have had no problem.  There were no crunchy or gooey parts to try to contain.  I bit into the bread, which offered no fight.  Then my teeth quickly slid through the partially melted cheese that most likely wanted to maintain the temperature that the fridge at home had worked so hard to maintain.  (But what chance does cheese have when faced with the trials of a teenager’s backpack?)  And then there was the bologna.  Any fight it once had was long ago mass-produced out of it.  It chomped through without a second thought, a quick send off to a suitable substitute for meat.

The sandwich was always the main ingredient, but the side dishes were always plentiful.  A typical lunch would consist of:  sandwich, an eight-ounce can of TreeTop apple juice (I told you, I was Washington-raised), a bag of cookies (not-factory sealed, my mom pre-bagged some for each kid), and a bag of fruit, be it apples or grapes.

I always had a fondness for grapes.  They had to be seedless, and I always preferred the greener variety.  The non-bruised ones were naturally the best and most deserving of my attention.  I would promptly use my teeth slice them in half.  (They had some mass and resistance to them; they could take it.)  Most of the time I would try to bite them exactly in half across their longitude.  I would place them between my front teeth and chomp; the crisp skin breaking open and giving way to a little burst of juice flowing on my tongue.  In my fingers was a little mini-football helmet.  I looked at the dome, examined the tiny veins in the middle of its structure, and then I tossed that part into my mouth as well.  (If I was really feeling wacky, I would slice the grape along its long side.  Somehow, I thought this made the grape resemble a watermelon, even though now I think it probably looked more like a water trough.)

I do not think that I was extreme enough to try to save the handful of plastic bags for another use, but I would not have put it past me.  The paper bag was always saved, unless it had gone through some tragedy.  Even the best intentioned diner will tear a massive hold in their bag or spill a drink all over the table.  What use is there for napkins when there’s a brown paper bag just sitting there to sop up the mess?  The TreeTop can was a different matter.  I probably saved that for last.  I liked hearing the sharp “pop” as I bent the tab backwards and the metal gave way.  It was an effort to get my finger between that loop and the aluminum surface that it rested against, but I made do.  The juice was quickly consumed; one slurp or two usually was enough to send the entire contents cascading down the parched throat of a kid who had devoured his lunch with much ferocity.   After the liquid was all gone, including the requisite tapping on the bottom to get those last two or three precious drops, then the can squishing began.

Some may have crushed their cans.  I squished.  I was not the strongest of high school kids, so my efforts necessitated more precision from me.  I worked my fingers around the middle of the can, making small dents in its torso.  Then I would go back and make the dents bigger and bigger until I was left with an obese hourglass.  Only then would I put the top and the bottom, the only flat surfaces left, between my hands and push with all my might.  That usually shrank the can down to a three or four-ounce size.  It was hardly impressive, but I was typically pleased with the results.  (The lopsided result always bothered me.  I wanted the crushed can to look flat and if one side was more resilient than the other, then I was vexed.)

That is how I survived my childhood without cafeteria lunches.  I thought vending machines were terribly cool because I rarely got to partake from them.  Trips to the airport were made special because we were actually allowed to make use of these wondrous machines.  Even then, I knew that the prices at airports were much higher than anywhere else.  But I still had my dollar and I still got to choose a candy, so prices meant nothing when compared to this rare privilege.

I do not remember specific incidents when I dove into the high school vending machine, but with all the after school drama activities, I am sure that I partook in a bag of chips or two.  The food trays though, those I can guarantee were never used by the teenager with the unadorned, but thoroughly wrinkled, brown paper bag.

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