Monday, March 30, 2009

How I Became Student Body President of Pocatello High

When I was a sophomore at Pocatello (hereafter referred to as "Poky") High School, the student body president was Stan Spicer. Stan was that rare athlete who was not only good at athletics and, hence, popular, but also genuinely humble and, hence, even more popular. At the time the president of the United States was Dwight Eisenhower--a popular war hero. I mention this because in a way their positions were analogous, i. e. both were popular heros who proved to be well-liked and admired as politicians. If Stan Spicer was the Dwight Eisenhower of Poky High, then his vice president, Steve Pugmire, was the Richard Nixon--not only because he was the vice president, but because, like Nixon, he was a thoroughgoing politician. His whole extra-curricular focus was school politics, and he planned, as one would expect, to become one in real life after first getting a law degree.
Steve succeeded Stan as student body president, and his vice-president, Raymond Scheele, was cut out of the same mold as himself. He had, like Steve, been very active in school politics from the time he entered high school, and probably even at his junior high, and he planned to make a career out of politics. It was also assumed that he would succeed Steve as student body president. Indeed, it looked like we were in for a long run of career politicians as presidents.
The day that it was announced that nominating petitions for student body officers were due in a couple of days, I was walking from a class in the main building to one in the gym building when Nancy Robinson came up to me and said, "See this?’ She showed me a sheet of paper attached to a clip board. "This", she announced, not waiting for my response, probably realizing that since I had become to vain to wear my glasses, that there was no way I could see what it was anyway, "is a petition to run you for student body president. Several of us are out getting people to sign these petitions." I really don’t remember what I said. I’m sure it was something very profound, very wise, and, above all, very humble. Actually, what I probably said was, "you’re kidding, of course." But whatever I said, she assured me that I was being placed on several petitions to be the next student body president.
At this point, I think I should try to explain why anyone would even think of putting me up for student body president. Of course, whenever I would mention, as when I was in college I did on many occasions, that I had been student body president of Pocatello High School, everyone to whom I mentioned it assumed that what had happened was that the five or six members of the senior class gathered in a circle and someone passed out straws and the person with the longest straws became student body president, the person with the next longest became senior class president and so on until it got down to the person with shortest straw who became school mascot. But actually, it wasn’t like that at all. At that time there was, as I think I pointed out in a previous article, only one high school in Pocatello which was the second largest city in the state of Idaho. Now, although Boise was bigger, it had more than one high school, so we sere the largest in the entire state of Idaho. Now, of course, it being Idaho that was still no great shakes, but still we had too many people to decide school officers with a simple straw pull, at least two or three times too many. What I am saying is that you had to do something to distinguish yourself before you could expect to be chosen, or even be chosen by your friends, to be student body president. I did two things.
Well, actually, the first and most important thing I did, I didn’t do at all, my parents did. Of course, I am certainly not the first person, nor, I suspect, will I be the last, to ride into an important public office because of something his/her parents did. What my parents did was have my sister just one year after me, so she was a sophomore when I was a junior. She was in her own right, popular, and that helped, of course, but the thing that really put it over was that she was very outgoing. It used to bother me at times that she was so outgoing, because I sometimes thought it was a bit embarrassing, but, trust me, if you are thinking of running for a school office, or even if your friends are thinking of running you for that office, having a very outgoing sister just a year younger than you is an enormous asset. But even that would not have done the trick were it not for the fact that early in my junior year, dad had purchased a book entitled "Braude’s Book of Humor. Now it would be very helpful to this whole story if I could say that it was my idea, but since my sister is still around to set the record straight, I’m going to say that I’m not sure whose idea it was, but one of us got the idea to try out as joint MC’s for the school traveling assembly.
Now the person who chose the MC or MC’s for the traveling assembly was the choir teacher, Mr. Gabbard, which you might have thought would give me an advantage seeing as how I was in the choir. Unfortunately, I was a bass who every time the basses had to sing a note above middle C, which was quite often, I could only make it by going into falsetto and whenever I did that Mr. Gabbard would give me a stern look and rather often would add his lecture about singing from the midsection. "A bass who has to sing high should never strain his vocal cords, he should sing from his midsection. By the time choir is over every bass should be sweating because he has had to work his midsection so hard." Well, I never could figure the midsection thing out so I continued to get dirty looks.
The other problem was that the people trying out for MC were more popular than we were and many had had experience in that sort of thing. Nevertheless, Loni was undaunted and so we worked up a routine using jokes from Braude’s book and a few that I threw in from some old Archie and Jughead comic books, admittedly, pretty corny.
Well, at tryouts, I was as nervous as a cat. First, the Anderson twins--two very popular identical twin boys, got up and told a joke, that I thought was pretty funny and I couldn’t help but notice, so did Mr. Gabbard. The joke depended on the fact that they were identical in appearance. After telling the joke, they simply said that if they were chosen they would tell some more just like that, only even funnier.
After the Andersons, Fred Wynn tried out, but he didn’t even bother to have a joke, depending, I think on popularity and the fact that he had been in some plays. I can’t remember who else tried out, but we were last.
Admittedly, we were the best prepared--in two ways. First, we actually had a routine, and second, Loni had gotten several of her friends to come as a sort of cheering squad. It was the cheering squad that did the trick. After every joke they simply roared. Some of the jokes were so corny that they didn’t know when to roar, but they roared anyway--usually when we were only half-way through the joke. But you would have thought that we were the funniest thing to come along since Will Rogers, in fact, if an executive of CBS had been there, I suspect that he would have canceled Jack Benny’s contract and turned his show over to us.
The result was that we got the job. The further result was that I got what in advanced political circles is known as "exposure", which is very helpful; indeed, almost necessary if you want to run for an important political office.
But I would hate for anyone to think that I depended on the result entirely on my parents and sister. My own contribution, and, I believer, looking back, that it was substantial, came about because somewhere toward the end of my sophomore year I noticed the truth, first enunciated by Dorothy Parker, that girls seldom make passes at boys who were glasses. If the glasses are thick, which mine were, you can replace the "seldom" with "never", so I simply stopped wearing my glasses. This created another problem, however. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I did have a few and those few became somewhat miffed when I passed them in the hall without so much as an acknowledgment that I knew them. This, of course, occurred because I couldn’t see them. To remedy this situation I simply started waving and saying "hi" to everyone in the hall. At first I thought I would be considered a nut because I was waving at people I didn’t even know, but I soon learned that most high school students are as socially insecure as I was and they didn’t mind at all being waved at, even by a stranger. So I became known as someone who was extremely friendly. Now if you want to be popular, especially with the "in" crowd, this is no asset, but if you want to run for an office, it is.
Now the result of all of this was that, of the five or six candidates in the primary, Ray Scheele and I made the finals. Of course, you are probably thinking, having made the finals, I was faced with having to give a campaign speech. Actually, by this time in my life, I was pretty comfortable doing public speaking. The real problem was that it is sort of expected in a campaign speech that you will make promises about what you will do. My quandary was, not having the foggiest notion of what the student body president, or anyone else in student government for that matter, was supposed to do, I had not a clue as to what I should, or could, reasonably promise to do. I solved this rather sticky dilemma by again referring to Braude’s book, selecting four or five of what I considered his best jokes that Loni and I had not already used in our MC routine, and using that as my speech, concluding with the promise that I would do my best to do whatever I did do. I was very careful to leave out any reference to intellectuality or making any promises about doing my best to be intelligent, which I had learned from previous experience, is more or less like promising to bring the spinach to the party--it simply doesn’t put you at the top of list, which, of course, if you are running for an office is where you want to be.
Well, as you might expect, Ray Scheele gave a wonderful talk outlining all of the things that he planned to do and I, well I described my talk above. I was very impressed with Ray’s talk and as I remember, I voted for him myself and almost everyone in my class did likewise. However, I won the election, the reason being that Loni got almost everyone in her class, in spite of my talk, to vote for me, and the seniors, who probably should not have been allowed to vote at all, also voted for me, probably reasoning that they appreciated my jokes, and since they wouldn’t be around to appreciate Ray’s program decided to vote for something they could appreciate.
Ray was elected Senior Class President in the class elections in the fall. As might be expected I did not make a very good student body president. Fortunately, the discontent over my poor performance did not spill over into actual physical violence. It may have, however, at the class graduation banquet where I was to give a speech. I do not think the thing would have come to actual bodily harm, but I think that a few of the more malcontents were preparing themselves with over-ripe tomatoes and rotten eggs, but, as luck would have it, the morning of the banquet I was thrown from a horse which left me with such a severe limp that even the malcontents felt sorry for me. However, on the occasion of the 10 year reunion, I no longer had access to horses, and I suspected that even if I had, the years of anticipation of some kind of reprisal, might make even getting thrown again from a horse of little avail. So even though I was in town, I decided to let prudence be the better part of valor, and skip the reunion. After all, Pocatello High had some pretty big bruisers when I went there.
I really don’t remember why I missed the twenty year reunion. By that time I was finally married, but just, so I may have been thinking that, although I hoped Shauna (my wife) didn’t marry me only because I had been student body president, I probably decided that just in case, it might be better to let the thing go by rather than have her find out I had muffed it. I did, however, fully intend to be at the 30 year reunion, but it turns out our family had a reunion at the same time, and by that time I had, not only a wife, but several children, all of whom, including the wife, voted for the family, as opposed to the class, reunion.
But at the 40th reunion, I was there. Ray Scheele was there also and when he saw me, he came up and we embraced. After all those years, all was forgiven, but he did say, "How come you never come to the reunions?" He then just laughed.
When I think back on the experience, I sometimes feel that it was a good thing I was elected after all. At the end of the year, Mrs. Rice, who was the student government advisor told me that I had been one of her very favorite student body presidents. Besides being the advisor to student government, she also taught government classes, and like most who do, she was a liberal who believed as most of them do, in the adage, "That government governs best that governs most." But interestingly enough, where student government was concerned, she outdid even Thomas Jefferson, believing essentially that. "student government governs best that governs not at all". Which explains why I was such a favorite. Had Ray Scheele, on the other hand been elected, who knows what might have happened. Ray went on to get his doctorate and teach political science at Ball State University, and like most political science professors, he was caste very much in the "governs most" mode, but, unlike Mrs. Rice, he carried it over to student government, in fact, you could say he was--as concerns student government--in the "governs most, and then some" camp. I like to rationalize my own experience by reflecting on Calvin Coolidge--one of my favorite presidents--and his most famous saying, "The business of America’s student governments is nobody’s business."

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