EXCERPT FROM "THE BRAT CHRONICLES":
by Michael Ritter
I knew that Mr. Dwight had a free period, so I skipped English Literature and made a beeline for his class. When I entered the room, Carl was leaning back in his chair, reading the Stars and Stripes. "What do you think about all this Watergate stuff, Mike?" he grinned as he folded the newspaper and laid it on his desk. "I think Tricky Dick's in on the whole thing," he continued, without waiting for a response from me, "never did trust that guy."
"Uh, Mr. Dwight," I began softly as I sat on the comer of his desk.
"Sorry... Carl. You got a minute?"
"Several," Dwight smiled and sat up in his chair, "next class doesn't start for almost an hour. What's on your mind?"
"I guess you heard what happened with our class song contest," I mumbled.
"Yeah, tough break. For what it's worth, I was rooting for you guys."
"Really?" I responded with surprise, "I thought you didn't appreciate our little club very much."
"Well, you've got great taste in music, so you can't be all bad," Dwight smiled as he again leaned back in his chair. "How are the other guys taking it?"
"I don't know, I'm sure they're pissed off."
Without replying, I hopped off the desk and sulked over to the table where Dwight kept some back issues of news magazines. "Well," I muttered while nonchalantly flipping through the stacks, "I'm more ...disillusioned."
"Ahhh," Dwight grinned, "I get it... you guys practically run the school so you assumed..."
"That's not what I'm talking about," I snapped, "it's not about the Studs."
Mr. Dwight sat motionless behind his desk, a pensive look filling his deep?set, brown eyes. "Okay," he finally responded, "lay it on me, Mike. What's bugging you?"
For the next several minutes I bared my soul... my peers ? kids weaned in a world filled with racial injustice and social unrest, a generation who had experienced first?hand the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, teenagers who wore Vietnam P.O.W. bracelets with pride and compassion ? had chosen to have their moment in time represented by a light, cheery, self involved, bubble gum tune over a song that had substance and meaning, and spoke of concern for one another's welfare. I just didn't understand it.
Mr. Dwight sat quietly through my cathartic discourse, his attention occasionally accented by a nod of his head and a knowing smile, and as I finished my indignant soliloquy, he rose from his chair and walked over to where I was standing. He picked through the clutter of magazines until he located a copy of Time with President Nixon's face emblazoned across the cover, and bearing the words "Should He Resign?"
"How do you think he'll be remembered?" Dwight solemnly queried. "It's a great concern of his, you know, and one that motivates most politicians... their place in history. Right now, of
Tricky Dick is sweatin' bullets, not because of what he's done, but because of Watergate's impact on his legacy. He's afraid that when all is said and done, people won't remember that he opened the door to China, or achieved détente with the Soviets, or possibly even ended the war in Vietnam. They'll just remember Watergate." Dwight smiled and tossed the magazine on the table, "Maybe that same concern is bugging you, Mike."
"The Nixon analogy ain't working for me, Carl," I glumly replied.
Ignoring my self-pity, Carl continued, "Consider that song you chose to represent your class, your legacy, as it were. I understand it also happens to be the theme song for you and those guys you hang around with ...the Studs."
"Yeah, it is. But that doesn't change the song's message."
"That's true," Dwight agreed as he returned to his desk, "but it does add to your disappointment that your song lost."
"I'm still missing your point," I sighed, taking another glance at Nixon's picture.
"My point is the importance that humans place on historical retrospection. In years to come, whenever people hear the name Nixon, their first thoughts will be of political corruption. If 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' had won, the Studs' domination of the class of 1973 would have been set in stone, and the memory of you would be forever linked to the sentiments expressed in that song." Dwight leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head, and drove home his assessment, "But, without that linkage, the Studs might be remembered..."
"As a bunch of skirt?chasing guys who threw great parties, and erected an icon to themselves in the student park," I completed his thought.
"Maybe," Dwight smiled, "but who knows, and why do you care?"
That was the real question. I understood what Dwight was saying about historical linkage, but my concern ran deeper than how my friends and I would be remembered. Oh that was important to me, to be sure, but as graduation loomed ever closer I couldn't escape the feeling that more than my high school days were coming to an end. The class had chosen a song riddled with references to "I" and "me" that, at least in my mind, signaled more than a repudiation of the Studs. During the '60's, kids my age had watched anxiously from the sidelines as the battles over peace, brotherhood, and equality had been fought. We were a generation nurtured on the premise that united we'd stand, divided we'd fall, and yet, now that it was our turn to carry the banner, it seemed that the era of "togetherness" was being supplanted by "it's every man for himself'. It didn't have a name yet, but the birth of the "Me Generation" was at hand, and with it came the premature death of ideals that I had always assumed would flourish throughout my lifetime. I was slowly coming to the realization that my peers were merely stepchildren of the '60's, too young to fight for the cause but, I thought, old enough to embrace the message. Unfortunately, I was naive enough to believe that everyone thought the way I did.
"You know, Mike," Dwight softly broke my concentration, "the ideals you champion, like the sentiments expressed in the song, are admirable. But they're ideals that you inherited, values forged by the vision and passions of the generation that preceded you. You guys are more like the second line of defense. The principles born in the '60's have been shoved through a filter... some of them got through, some of them didn't. If your generation isn't living up to your expectations, perhaps you shouldn't have so many. Besides, I'd say your classmates embraced at least one of those ideals you hold so dear..."
"Yeah?" I said incredulously. "What would that be?"
"Free thought... they've learned that they can say 'NO'," Dwight stated simply.
"To what?" I shot back defensively.
"There's a whole myriad of possibilities," Dwight broadly smiled, his pencil?thin lips stretched like a rubber band across his face, "anything... everything... maybe they're saying no to the song, maybe they're saying no to the whole process... or maybe they're just saying no to you."
I knew he was right, I'd really known it all along. Instead of promoting the song on its virtue as a hymn for our generation, my friends and I had made it personal. The song's message had taken a back seat to its reputation as Stud Anthem, turning the adoption of Senior Class song into a contest of wills, and our classmates had rejected the whole process. Ironically, I really believed the message of the song, but had put my true motives aside. I wanted to be part of a generation who thought that the highest form of personal gratification lay in an act of kindness towards another human being. What's more, I wanted everyone to know that I felt that way, and I wanted to believe that my peers felt that way, and that we were proud that we did. But now, all I felt was disheartened.
Dwight, almost sensing my discomfort, ended the awkward silence, "Anyway, that's just my opinion..."
"No," I interrupted, "you're right. They were saying no to us... it was the right answer to the wrong question."
The look on Dwight's face made me feel a little better; he was wearing one of those tilted?head, "you're growing up", approving smiles that parents cast at their kids on special occasions, like the first time they use the toilet without the safety net of a potty seat. "So," he grinned, "where do you go from here?"
I smiled cryptically and headed toward the open classroom door, "Out to change history, Carl," I declared, "out to change history."
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