Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys

1983, Nevada, Iowa

Our high school was so small you could be the good guy and the bad guy. In other words, if you had a good enough reputation with the other students, if you were popular, being a good athlete was a big plus, then you could practically get away with murder.

One way of being popular was to have a car. I had an Econoline Van that would seat up to 12 people, tinted windows and card table in the back complete with drink holders for the long hauls. We spent hours and hours driving around and drinking, I was like chauffeur to the stars, cruising around the loop or heading over to Ames to see what was happening in the big city.

The night before graduation we loaded up the Econoline for the biggest night of our adolescent lives. We wanted to do something big, make an impression, leave a mark. I drove, as always, but this time I put an American flag on my head, trying to emulate my hero Abbie Hoffman. No check points or cops to stop us, we headed over to the school armed with dozens of cans of spray paint.

I waited in the Van while the others attacked the school with aerosol. Class of ’83 rules, Mr Ball Sucks Balls, Stop the War in Central America, written all up and down the announcer booth at the football field, all across the front doors of the school, over the windows to the cafeteria. Graduation was only a few hours away, the misty solvent still pungent in the morning air.

No sleep and it was time to go to the graduation rehearsal ceremony. I was playing in the concert band as well as giving a speech because I was student council president and it was customary to give a short speech to sum up our careers at Nevada High. Mr. Ball, the principal, was at the podium testing the microphone when I walked in with my trumpet, and he looked right at me across the auditorium, saying some vandals attacked the school last night and he would find out by the end of the day who was responsible and they would not graduate.
I couldn’t tell if he was eliciting my help, thinking I might know something, or if he thought maybe I was one of the spray painters too. Hey I just drove, what my friends did with those cans is none of my business.

For graduation we had planned a big surprise, everyone put me up to it, and expected me to unofficially graduate those friends who had dropped out or had been kicked out during the year. I was to stop in mid speech and call the five or six names, handing them a rolled up piece of paper when they came to the podium amidst thundering applause. To make a long story short, I chickened out but half of them didn’t show up anyway.

I wanted to say something profound and leave an impression on the townspeople. I basically said not to expect much from a generation grown up on Brady Bunch family values and Ronald Reagan’s sense of right and wrong and what the truth is. Overcoming all the brainwashing would not be easy, and standing up to the powers that be, whether they be your teachers when they try to feed you the Myth of America and expect you to swallow it, or your president when he gets on television and tells you the Sandinistas are coming through Texas any minute now, would be a life long challenge. Some of us would be up for the struggle while others would swallow the pill, sedated by the false dreams of consumer culture and war mongering in the name of democracy and the American way of life. The class of ’83 might not change the world, but some of us were going to try.

The spray paint had all been removed by the time the townspeople filled the auditorium, and Mr. Ball never mentioned the incident to me again.

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