Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My First Campaign

The First Campaign
I was just getting used to the switch from attending Jr. high (at Franklin Junior High) to attending High School (at the time about which I write everyone in Pocatello attended high school at Pocatello High School, the school board at that time not giving anyone much choice), when they announced that nominations for Sophomore class officers would have to be turned in the next day. I didn’t think that the announcement much concerned me since I was about the shyest kid in the class and had done nothing in the way of athletics or, for that matter, in anything else to distinguish myself. In my second or third class, however, my friend, Clark Bartley, came up to me and announced that he had turned in my name to run for the representative from the class to serve in the school Senate. "Why on earth did you do that?", I asked wondering whether to be piqued or flattered. "I don’t know anything about school politics and there is no way I could get elected."
"What this school needs," Clark explained, "is more intellectuals in student government. Now I have a plan that will get you elected. All you have to do is get past the primary and I will write a speech for you that will knock the socks off the kids in the class. After you give your campaign speech, they will never vote for anyone but an intellectual again."
"Speech," I protested, "you mean I have to give a speech? Forget it!"
"Well, of course, if you get past the primary, you have to give a speech. I’m counting on that to get you elected."
"Well," I said (and I said it very emphatically), "you can forget the whole thing. I am not giving any speech. I hate it when I have to speak in Sunday School, and I wouldn’t do it then if Mom or Loni (my sister) didn’t write them out for me. I just read them, but I am not going to get up in front of the entire Sophomore class and make a fool of myself reading a speech."
"Well, if you feel that way about it," Clark reassured me, "I’ll give your campaign speech for you. Since I’m your campaign manager anyway, I’m sure they won’t mind. Most of the time the actual campaign speeches are given by the campaign managers. They actually write all the speeches but sometimes the candidate gives one or two in the course of the campaign when he has had time to memorize the speech the campaign manager has written for him, but we don’t have time for than. I’ll give the speech."
"Are you sure that is going to be OK?" I demanded skeptically.
"Oh sure. In junior high things are different, but in high school most of the speeches are given by campaign managers, just like in the real world."
Reluctantly, I agreed to go along with this arrangement, mostly, I think because I was pretty sure I would never get past the primary. I mean, besides Clark and a few other close friends, nobody even knew who I was.
At this point I think I should explain how Clark came to think of me as an intellectual in the first place. Of course, there were the glasses, but they didn’t impress Clark. What actually happened was a few months earlier I had accompanied him to the college where he took his private tutoring lessons in calculus from a professor known as "Captain Brown". I sat outside Captain Brown’s office and read while Clark took his lesson. After the lesson Clark and the Captain came out and the Captain (he was retired military) asked Clark to introduce his friend. "Oh, this is my friend< Merrill." Then he added, "He’s none to bright--especially in math."
"Well math isn’t’ everything. What are you reading, Merrill?"
I proudly displayed my book, "The Three Musketeers", I replied. I say proudly, because normally I would have been reading the Hardy Boys, but I felt since I would be at the University I should have something at a little higher literary level
"That’s one of my favorite books!" Captain Brown exclaimed (I later found out that he had donated a large collection of Alexandre Dumas novels to the University library). "Your friend is as intelligent in literature as you are in math, Clark, and I’m not sure I would put one above the other." With this compliment I moved up considerably on the intellectual scale--at least in Clark’s eyes.
Two days later, at the beginning of home room, which for me was PE, the principal announced that Sophomores would be voting for class officers during home room and that our teachers would be writing the names of the candidates on the board and we were to make our choices on our own paper and turn in the "ballots". The teachers were to tally the results and turn them into the office. My PE class, which consisted of about 70 or 80 boys, was team taught by Wally Kelly and Ernie Sheurman. Mr. Sheurman had been the star of the local semi-pro baseball team a few years earlier, but had retired to teaching. I had actually seen him hit a home run during the one game to which my father had taken me as a boy. He was quiet, but firm and a wonderful teacher. Mr. Kelly, on the other hand, was very outspoken, and usually took charge of the class until we got into the actual activities. We called him "General No-Toes" because as a soldier in the Korean war the toes on one foot had become frostbitten and had to be amputated. On hearing the announcement of the election, he merely muttered, "Oh H---"(which was a no-no back then, but a no-no that he committed fairly often), "Mr. Sheurman will take care of that when he gets back from the equipment room."
Mr. Sheurman, probably oblivious to his newly delegated responsibility, went on with class as normal until toward the end of the period a boy walked up to him and said, "They sent me from the office to get your election results. You are the only class that hasn’t turned them in."
"Wally," he muttered, "I thought you were going to take care of that."
"Oh D---"(another no-no), "I completely forgot. I’ll do it now." He read off the list of candidates for class president. "Any of those guys in this class?" No one raised their hands. "Anyone know any of them?" A couple of boys named a friend. "Alright," the General barked, "who wants this kid’s friend for class president?’ Several hands went up. He quickly counted them. "I’ll assume that the rest of you want the other guy’s friend for class president." He went through the other officers in similar manner. It became clear that we actually only had the choice between the two candidates (usually of about 5 or six) that were known to someone in our class. Finally he came to the contest for senator. He read the list and as before barked out, "Any of those guys in this class"" Hesitantly, I raised my hand. "Oh good, finally a candidate in our class. What’s your name." I told him. "Anyone in this class who doesn’t want his fellow classmate, Merrill Gee, for class senator?" he asked with a note of defiance. No one raised their hand. "Glad to see your spirit of class loyalty." Having thus given us our opportunity to participate in democracy in action, the General dismissed the class.
At the first of the next period the winners in the primary were announced and I was relieved that I was not among their number. However, at the end of the second period the loudspeaker again came on. "Some of the results came in late. The late results did not alter the line-up of candidates in any of the races except for class senator. Merrill Gee will be added to the list of candidates for class senator. We will simply add his name and there will be an extra candidate in that race in the final election." The people, exercising there freedom to vote as they chose, had spoken. I was to be a candidate after all.
Needless to say I was very nervous. The whole "campaign manager bit" sounded a bit fishy to me, but Clark assured me that it would be OK. All I would need to do would be to stand by the podium while he delivered his speech, which, he felt, would make William Jennings Bryan’s fabled Cross of Gold speech sound hollow. After that speech, Clark assured me, my election was a sure thing and with an intellectual senator the school would finally be in good hands and the rousing success of our school year would be assured.
I was still nervous. I went home a stood in front of the mirror trying to look as intellectual as possible. I had to admit that without the glasses there was absolutely no hope. Fortunately, my father, always one with a sharp eye for a bargain, had purchased the glasses with the cheapest frames and I had to admit, even though I hated the glasses myself, that they definitely looked like a pair of glasses that Socrates or Aristotle would have worn if they had been around to wear them.
Two days later I stood along with all the other candidates off stage preparing for our respective entrances. I was somewhat less nervous than the others, because, of course, Clark was there to give my speech for me, but I was still pretty nervous wondering if I could look as intellectual as the situation required. Mr. Gooch, the school counselor, always cheerful and encouraging, read off the list of candidates and had each hold up his hand when his name was called. Having completed the list he turned to Clark, "And who, pray tell, are you?"
"Oh, I’m Merrill’s campaign manager. I’m going to give his speech."
"Campaign manager? Whoever heard of a campaign manager in a school election? No one is going to give someone else’s speech."
"But he’s not prepared. That’s not fair."
"That’s true," I agreed vehemently, "I’m not and it will be terrible if I have to speak."
"Nonsense," Mr. Gooch said, trying to be stern and yet encouraging, but obviously amused, "you’ll do just fine. Now I don’t want to hear any more about someone else giving someone else’s speech and that’s final!" With that Clark sat down on the floor obviously dejected.
When it was my turn to speak I stepped out, shaking. "If I’m elected," I promised in a tremulous tone of voice, "I will do my very best to do my best." With that I realized that I had said all I had to say--and then some, but remembering Clark, I added, "What this school needs is more intellectuals in student government. There is a definite lack of the intellectual element in our student legislature. If I am elected, therefore, I promise I will try to be as intelligent as possible. Thank you." With that I bowed and dashed off-stage. I hardly dared look at Clark.
"See, just as I said, your friend did a great job, " Mr. Gooch said to Clark as we all headed back to class.
Anyone reading this sketch, will hardly be surprised to hear that, as is so often the case in American political life, the intellectual candidate in that election went down to a crushing defeat.

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