Monday, October 27, 2008

The Briefest of Political Notes

41 years ago today John McCain was shot down over Vietnam. Wow. By now, everybody knows the rest of the story. In a world full of craven nitwits, John McCain is a genuine hero. That this does not, on any level, qualify him to be President of the United States is not surprising. There's scant room in politics, I guess, for heroism. But attention must be paid.

41 years ago I was in the second month of my three year incarceration at Randolph Macon Academy, a military school in Front Royal, Virginia. The story goes that my brother (I forgive him now) didn't give a shit about school and my parents decided that I wasn't going to repeat that scenario. So at the beginning of 7th grade they told me I had to get my grades up. By the end of that year I metaphorically told them to shove it by laying what was probably a B, three Cs and a D on the breakfast table.

And so off to Front Royal I went.

Anna Quindlen once wrote an amazing column for The Times. The gist of it was that every parent holds onto certain things they did, at one time or another, to their children (good or bad, all parents end up doing shitty things to their children) that they believe left damaging psychic scars. Then later in life, when the kid does something horrible (like, say, gets caught driving across the Mexican border with 150lbs of dope in the back of a pick-up truck), they say to themselves, "Oy, if only I hadn't told little Johnny that he was a shitty saxaphone player."

This is only human nature, so okay. Except Quindlen went on to postit the notion that our children, if asked, would dredge up entirely different scarring acts of parental commission or omission than the ones we ourselves have cast in stone.

"I didn't care," Johnny might say years later, "that Mom thought I couldn't play the sax. Truth be told, she was right. I hated doing it and it sounded like I was strangling a chicken. It didn't bug me at all. But did she have to make us eat hot oatmeal every day of our lives? The vision of that morning bowl of hot sludge still haunts me, and the first thing I asked the Mexican Federales was, 'do you serve oatmeal in prison?' When they responded 'Oatmeal? You don't need no stinking oatmeal!' I found it to be a great comfort in an otherwise unpleasant moment."

Anyway, my parents always thought sending me to military school was the thing they did that left me with psychic scars. Naaah. I had a pretty good time. Also beaned out a 3.80 GPA at a time when 4.0 was the highest you could get. Three years later I was mighty glad to get out; don't get me wrong. And I still remember the moment I plopped myself down in first period of my 11th grade English class on my first day at Fairfax High School (ahhhh, free at last), up near the front (dutiful Geoff, the 3.80 student), turned to my left and spied a girl wearing the most extraordinary combination of pompons, saddle shoes, ribbons, eyeliner, lipgloss and a blue and white pleated skirt ... I mean, to see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die -- that's how pretty she was. My chin hit the top of my desk so hard I think I may still have that disease where your jaw doesn't align properly and it makes you behave oddly. Mad cow? Anyway, after that, academics seemed secondary.

But happy ending aside, I do remember October of 1967, having just turned thirteen, lying on my cot, eyes wide open long after they'd played Taps, thinking that this was a pretty shitty place to be. So my thoughts go out to John McCain on this day of all days.

And to my parents I would say, if I could, "It's all right Ma (I'm only bleeding)."


Blogger Tree said...

Wow. You're old. (Kidding)
I used to drive through Front Royal on my way to Harrisonburg. Or maybe I just drove by a highway sign for Front Royal, I don't remember.

Your blog is bereft of comments. Is this by choice? I don't want to bug you.
No one hardly ever comments on my blog but that's not by choice. Maybe I'm just really boring.

3:48 PM  

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