Monday, April 26, 2004

Except for the Freshmen, (whose elections were held in late September), class elections were held during the second semester. The titles would be in effect next school year. So I made my speech as a sophomore, running for Junior class treasurer- and I won! Incidentally, my speech was the most that many of my classmates had heard me speak at all. I felt good. But when Junior year came into effect, I started to wonder what all I exactly had to do. Purportedly, each class had a budget of money that could/would be used to help pay for things they wanted, like class trips, dances, etc. I remember Ben Rizzo, who for the 2nd year running was class prez, asked me to call up the Chicago Blackhawks to find out what their group rate for hockey tickets were. I did- but from there, your guess is as good as mine what all money ‘we’ technically had. I never got to see any books or records of any kind. We never had a class trip exclusively for us that year. Call me jaded, but I was pretty ticked that I didn’t get to do anything. Given that the elections were kind of school-sanctioned popularity contests, empty titles may have been the unspoken norm. Of course, given that I was the only person of color elected, it kind of smacked of tokenism the more I thought about it. Still, I was un-fazed enough to run for class office again, this time for president. The first time, I was very solemn in my approach- I put up a few homemade posters, and my speech was fairly serious. This time, I figured I might as well go all out, and play the game like everyone else- flashy & shallow. I put up lots of posters, involving pictures of hip-hop personalities and cartoon characters, with catchy sloganeering. My speech was geared to be uptempo, and full of bluster- “Fight the power, and vote for me!”. What with the response I got, I just knew I had a great chance of winning. This time around, though, one key rule had been changed by the administration- Students were now technically not running for one specific office- everyone now simply ran as an ‘undetermined’ candidate. The top four vote-getters would get the four ranking titles, respectively- President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer. As it so happens, pretty much all of the black kids in class were pulling for me, and quite a lot of the white kids; I had become somewhat popular in the intellectual sense. Percy and Jay were on my side; my fellow candidate Goran Melmen was also pretty popular, and more of an all-American “most likely to succeed” type. Goran and I were cordial, but didn’t know each other well. However, he was especially good friends with Ben Rizzo, who had opted not to run for Senior office. At one point during a class meeting, Ben pulled me aside and suggested I run for president “You really have a great rapport with them!” he said, ingratiatingly. Now Ben, whom I had known since Freshman year, was a well-practiced jokester/comedian, the type to lay it on thick whenever he spoke to you. Depending on how well you knew him, you either found him contemptuously amusing, or you couldn’t stand him. I remember the speeches for election all took place on a Tuesday. The elections took place on a Wednesday. Results were to be announced Friday. As it so happened, both sophomore and junior class officer announcements were made. As for us- the forthcoming seniors- results were delayed!! I was shocked- “now what?” Needless to say, ‘conspiracy!’ was the collective sentiment for my black classmates. And yet, were they really that far from the truth? I would never know for sure- several students revealed that they had seen Ben counting results by himself (without our faculty Sponsor) during their homeroom session- with ballots allegedly being stuffed in favor of Goran. As this scandalous scuttlebutt shot through our ranks, it eventually got back to Mr. Zotski, our Sponsor. At the time, I was initially unaware of the reason for delay, and asked him what was wrong. He admitted that there were “a number of rumors” floating about, and that he was going to be re-counting the results himself. But by then, the damage may have already been done. Taking student absences into account- even if Mr. Zotski made sure there was no surplus of ballots that superceded our class size, there was no way to determine who really voted for whom, since the ballots were not personalized. Personally, I would have preferred an all new ballot- But as it stood, the established votes were counted. Once again, I was a ‘sole brother’, but technically #2, not #1. I came in second place (exactly by how many was never revealed). And so, I was now class Vice-President Hypestyle. By then, my lingering resentment of the way things went at that school was really coming to a head. When senior year rolled around, I found that, my duties, once again, were in theory only. What makes things worse, is that, in my senior yearbook, published after I graduated, I am identified as class SECRETARY! Probably cheated in one instance, and retroactively demoted in another! Typical… My sports career in school was short lived. I briefly tried out for the basketball team my Freshman year, but got cut after one day. I let it discourage me, and Sophomore year didn’t even bother. But, fatefully, Percy Shapiro, who was in my homeroom, invited me to come with him to videotape the games. He and I got to travel with the team to all the away games, and got in free to all home games. He and I had a great friendship through that time we spent. As time went on it seemed to matter less that I was not on the floor, getting the glory and the girls. On the flip side, by Junior year I was antsy to at least get involved with something. I briefly mulled wrestling, but decided not to do it. Finally, I submitted my name & phone number for training camp for football. It was going to be Senior year, and I was trying out for football for the first time. People had always been remarking at my size, and how I might be good at it. I wasn’t a pro, that’s for sure. I had to get used to all the regular exercises and routines, that other guys had been doing since freshman year. I was so bad, I even got hassled by the underclassmen, most of which were on the Junior Varsity team. But eventually, I persevered, and got my uniform. I was a bencher, but the one time I got let on the field was cool. I was offensive tackle, by the way. We were playing Chesterton High. When I slammed into my opponent, I was dreading doing something stupid. But it went by pretty okay. I missed out on our sectional victory that year- a bout with asthma laid me out for a week. After that, we lost our regional game, to Hobart High. Many in the region felt we could’ve gone all the way that year. It didn’t help that we lost a few of our starting people- ‘Jerry Cruz’ had grade problems; ‘Ed Vaughn’ had a broken arm; ‘Ferris Dice’, a busted leg. I wish I would have ordered our season video that the Coach put together. And I got a (second) letter to put on my jacket. So, at least for a limited time, I was my own football hero. For the most part, I internalized feelings- the negative things said to and done to me- as I had done throughout most of my grade school years. My exasperation with it all just seethed, without exploding. At one point during sophomore year, I threw my art supply box at one (black) clown; senior year I almost got into a fight with two (white) others; both times, I felt my rage intensify to the breaking point- but I couldn’t help but think of the consequences. I was still on the school bus when I tossed my art box- part of me wanted to tear the guy apart, another part of me knew that a cramped bus wasn’t the best place to start a brawl; and if Mr. Atkinson kicked me off the route, that would have meant me having to walk to school every morning- from 47th to 59th avenue, but the block lengths were hardly consistent. If I walked non-stop, it took me about 45 minutes. Like I said earlier, Mom’s car was burnt out; and dad stopped driving altogether after his back surgery in ’85, when I was in 6th grade. Senior year, I was in a classroom when my ire was struck, I struck a few brief blows against my antagonizers, but both times, the donnybrooks were cut off prematurely. I knew that if I had fully given in to my anger, I was capable of maiming, or worse. And with college around the corner, I knew that I didn’t want an expulsion on my record. Overall: Freshman year was a nuisance, sophomore year was horrible, junior year things eased back, and senior year, finally, the drama that headed my way was minimized. So, if I had to do it all over, I probably wouldn’t go to Andrean again, if only just to have an alternative experience. Of course, hindsight being 20/20- Maybe I would have been popular. Maybe I would have made the basketball team; maybe I would have met a special girl. Maybe not. I never would have gotten to know Percy- I probably wouldn’t have even thought about being a videotaper. I’m sure I would have been keeping in touch with Jay, in letters and by phone, but I would have rarely gotten to see him again face-to-face during that time. Looking at what happened in Colorado- I hardly condone what those kids did, yet I can understand the concept of feeling alienated from almost everyone around you. The immediate future seems dismal, and, for the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much you can do but take it. I fantasized about getting physical revenge on people many times during those years. But it never went beyond the thought level- On one hand, I didn’t even remotely have the access to the things that those kids did- through the internet and otherwise. On another level, I know that my conscience would never let me follow through with any such deeds. And just the fact that these kids were Aryan sympathizers, makes my blood boil- I definitely wouldn’t have been a trench-coater.

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