My High School Graduation: 31 Seconds Over Hamilton; Seizing This Power
Tick . . .Tock . . .
September 14, 10:43 p.m., CDST.
Item: subject of this piece is in reality a true, hand to God, slice of my life when I had turned 18, registered for The Draft and now 31 seconds later . . .I was waiting to march with my classmates to graduate from Hamilton (Ala.) High School, Friday night, May 19, 1972.
I felt good about this hub.
Let me say This
THERE ARE THOSE MOMENTS those strange moments that get underneath our hide--wriggling upward to only God knows where, and it's only afterward 'til we understand these moments, very rare moments, and enjoy them.
Since birth I've had this ever-creeping spotlight that shines on other souls around and far from myself. I never thought that much about that spotlight that somehow never runs down or someone from maintenance runs up with a ladder to install a new bulb. These thoughts although did come through my much younger mind, they never took root. I was too young for superfluidity. Too many decisions await my growing strong and American to waste time thinking about imaginary spotlights, bulbs burning out and such. This is a man's world. Years later I knew the truth about that song about James Brown.
From my birth to that one moment frozen as in slow motion animation, I never actually did much thinking as much as I did trying to live so my parents would give me a passing grade and telling me that mathematics and science did not amount to as much as getting an A on conduct. My parents were right on that one. So was my Economics teacher, Ruble Shotts, when I was a junior in high school. Why, and I have to ask, did Shotts have more influence and gravity on my life than my parents--especially about my conduct grades? I never asked him or my parents. Too many decisions to make in junior high. Job choices, college, Vietnam, these were at the top of my Personal Priority List in 1971. Still, that annoying spotlight as if it had legs similar to a centipede just kept on crawling toward me--but never bothered to tell me why.
But that pestering spotlight and I were on a head-on, dead-on collision just waiting for us in a few short months. People and things, nouns, all have a shady side. Sneaking in and out of bushes and always keeping low to avoid being seen by their prey. It's like Jungle Survival in junior high and sometimes in real life. No one bothered (at this time) to sit down and hand me this program of what was about to happen basically one year later, May 19, 1972, a moment, like that spotlight, when it arrived and grew closer was nothing like those slinky, shady, sultery women of 30ish--brunette hair, lots of make-up, the girls I sat and dreamed of in 1971, but a real presence made by that spotlight and its creeping and nerve-grinding sawing metal against cement sound made me edgy by the minute.
Oh yeah. Junior high sped away like a starving burglar (from an all-night doughnut shop) who was not really a mean bloke, but he was young, jobless, and his live-in female companion was three months pregnant with his child. He needed cash. Time was not of an essence for me. I wish that God have willed time to just stop and let me catch my breath to see where I was going, what lie ahead of me and why. Naaah. God is not going to place one soul above the other. This would not be fair of Him. I just needed to cut loose now that I had my Draft Card which opened one main door: Us male friends could pile into one of our cars and speed down to Guin, Ala., and sit through a feature film on Friday or Saturday night and at midnight, watch the Late Show and I mean real profanities, real flesh and women who did make good cash for that time making Porno Films, but these films although black and white still caused us to wear red faces throughout the film. Thank God that inside Allan Coons' '57 Chevy BelAir was dark as a dungeon. I owned the U.S. Dept. of Defense along with Uncle Sam and the Army to give us, the men earmarked for 'Nam to be so courteous with us as to let us get in on our Draft Cards.
What I, and all male friends, the four that I had, wanted besides friendly relations with those women that I dreamed of with the red lipstick, brunette hair, lots of rouge, in her 30s, and a way out of town. Quick. John Cougar Mellencamp was a kid when we were kids, so we couldn't use him for our idol in this trying time of life in Junior High, Small Town, so we settled for Don McClean who made a gazillion bucks with "American Pie" when this hit was popular over WLS-Chicago, late 1971, and I personally began to worry even more than my four buddies. I worried about that blame spotlight who was camped out in a very cushy place at the end of our front yard and living comfortably. My dad, the OCD Lawnmower King, never bothered this old spotlight when it was time for the lawn to be mowed. Why are dads sometimes so vacant in thought?
Time like thoughts wait for no man. Waves can be transposed in that phrase that I just remade for affect. Summer of 1971 was scary for us. The next 10 months, not counting the final months of junior high, was sensibly-compared to a living, breathing, walking horror film that was shown each day of our lives. Fear, the first cousin of scared, can creep upon the wisest, most-careful explorer and fear definitely caused us to stay hid in low places for a while for we did not know how our Senior Year would be for us here in Small Town, U.S.A. American Graffiti we found out was only fantasy driven by dialogue by actors who had learned how to act and get big paychecks. That was it in a nutshell. Sure, Ronny Howard, "Opie," could win and probably did win many prestigious awards, but living off of one award only to get work in the next gig can only play for so long. Then what? But I was talking about American Griffiti and us guys who were facing several gut-wrenching, hair-pulling decisions in a few short months in our Senior Year and for us it was the not knowing what was coming that caused my stomach to churn. But not everytime. Sometimes the beef and cheese burrito's at The Toga Bar where we hung out was to blame.
Bump . . .Da Bump . . .Bump . . .Da Bump. When you were a senior in high school did you ever notice that in your first three weeks of Seniior High caused your heartbeat and race to grow slower? I did. I stayed scared most of the time, but hid it well. And everywhere I looked in the school building I saw that creeping spotlight that had zero'd in on me and now resting comfortably disguised as a stack of past-due books that a few students whose conscience had made them feel miserable and left off the books in the dead of night. But don't tell people that those in my class would ever lower themselves to being criminal-minded.
In the previous eight paragraphs, I have weighed in how I was mostly stumbling from here to there from birth through the cute maze of school days including my "six tough years"--grades 7 through 12, and now there comes the time that I have dreaded longer than a lot of you have been on earth. It's simple, really. I mentioned an annoying spotlight (with that awful metal-against-metal grinding sound) several times, not that I have a memory recall block, but a way to keep the spotlight in the forefront of your thinking and natural deduction. I myself have never claimed to have a lot of common sense, so that explains why I have to depend on using repetitive words and phrases (sometimes) to make stories like this one fresh, charged with interest, and just the right amount of good, clean fun.
It is now August 1972. My senior year. The 12-year sentence passed on me when I was a fun-loving, care-free boy, is growing to an end. Never for me to return to those imitation marble walls in our hallways of Hamilton (Ala.) High School, where I have spent junior high all the way up to the grade of "Senior." My hallways always had that distinct, never smelled anywhere else, rest stop rest rooms included, of ammonia mixed with some raunchy cleaning fluid that our janitor used to keep the boys and girls rest rooms clean. This included the removing of what profane sayings, greetings, and offers written on the walls by a device that we loved: Magic Markers with black ink. Tough to wash off. I hated the janitor's job.
With books in hand, schedule in my shirt pocket, I was shaking in my shoes, but that was not because of my fear of failing. It was because "that" fear that eats at everyone, even Charles Lindberg, that causes high school seniors who have finally seen the future and now dreading the back doors of our high school now wide-open telling us to leave. Please?! I am not just a number not a name. I feel as if the Beast and the False Prophet spoke of in The Book of Revelation have taken up residence in my school. What I felt in my sophomore year I see as fear, unsurity, and just plain wanting to grab a few shirts in my old knap sack and leave my hometown. Then change my name, probably to "Lenny Gruber McClain," a fitting American name. Not an ounce of reproach found on any syllable of this name.
But remember that spotlight? You will now be relieved for the Beast and False Prophet when they met this appratice, bowed out. Didn't want a fight. All because of that rusty old spotlight. I did feel a small twinge of pity for the poor thing--it had kept on my track for 18 years. And I give the devil his dues. This spotlight was faithful in his charge to track me down and get closer to me in a few short months in a face-to-spotlight position where it was impossible for me to do otherwise but stand and take it. Not easy for any high school senior.
Trekkies will love this iconic phrase: Warp speed. (Stars grow higher in oblong shapes). The 12-month, one-time year as a high school senior went just like warp speed. One morning we were excited about changing schedules, keeping a girlfriend for as long as possible and never acknowledging what was waiting for me. Yes, ma'am. You know it. He was already there sitting ready just like a professional ol' boy in South Carolina deer hunter who is still hunting--not making a noise. Even the blackbirds aren't noticing that "he" is there. That nasty old spotlight. It's him.
" . . .a little early," a husky football player says as he passes the spotlight and then walks on to his class. I have always envied someone who was so nonchalant. But I wasn't. This scene was of course, my mind playing "that" future fantasy that I would play the lead, solo, to be exact, in a one-man, one-act play where none of my classmates, friends and family would soon sit in those awful wooden bleachers and allow their butts to hurt and ache for about two and a half hours for everyone who has graduated high school knows the drill. The class marches in step with "Of Pomp and Circumstance" playing on the high school band, the class sits in unison. The principal clears his throat, makes an awful joke when no one laughs and proceeds to say the same things that he has said year-after-year. It's graduation. That's all it is. A rite of passage well said to older people who say that grads are our future. Some, maybe. Not all.
If only I could erase that one sickening fantasy each day of my senior year. Not possible. Mortals put themselves into many emotional and mental tests and when they pass, it is validation for them. But in my case, me. My validation and I wanted it really bad. Each class, weekend, even the few home football games were not that great. I felt a rumbling, small as it was, inside my gut. I first thought it might be some bad Salmon that my mom had prepared for supper one night. If only I was right. It was something else. Something terrible. Something horrific to say nothing about hellish. It was coming and even as I tried to talk with the prettiest girl in my class, "it" was drawing near. If it were death, I would not have been worried. Death for some, is final. Not me. I won't open that door for there are some who just look for a reason to argue.
" . . .you ready for Class Night?" I softly asked (that) pretty girl I mentioned in the above paragraph. The sad thing was, she didn't hear me. If only she had.
This Class Night term, exercise that goes with high school graduation was here. In a mere two weeks. I told you that my 12-months as a senior would go in warp speed. I wish that I received a royalty from the Gene Rottenberry Foundation for each time I used "warp speed." If only. I was a basket of tangled nerves, taut guts not knowing how to digest food--sweating for no reason. Graduation was now in a few days.
" . . .will you march with me?" a willowy brunette, "Rita," and friend of mine asked. What do you think I said in reply?
And with that agreement to march with "Rita," her real name, I was ready and had both feet on the ground. What a shabby phrase to use as a conjunction. I liked "Rita." I would have liked her a lot more if she would have agreed to date me when graduation was history. Oh, I did ask her once. But she only laughed that spoiled laugh and drove away. I knew how Dan Fogelberg would feel in a few years before I knew him sing, "That Same Old Lang Syne." What a heart-ripping song. If only, it were all about a man loving a girl. But it was mostly about life itself.
Now for my dramatic closing about the old rusty spotlight who was still waiting for me just outside of our brand new gymnasium given to us in 1969 by the only lady governor of Alabama, Lurleen Wallace, wife of George Wallace. I liked that woman. She was so southern bellish and yet so sure of what she was doing as our governor. Ahhh, if only.
You must have been where I am going now. Or somewhere like the place where I am walking to. The days, nights, weekends have all melted together and then somehow became unglued and left in separate ways leaving me, a guy of 18, single, no real expectations in having a good life and no real girlfriend to speak of. Dismal? Not really. Some guys in my class are worse off. But right now and for the next 31 minutes, I stand by myself and feeling death itself, but I know that this is not right. Death itself cannot be here for I just happen to know that Death is busy tonight. I am here on the outside of two steel doors in the hallway facing my new gymnasium, yes, the one that Lurleen Wallace made possible, and waiting to hear that nauseating music . . ."Of Pomp and Circumstance," the music that we, the senior class has heard over and over in the past two weeks. We knew the routine. Why must we jump through these hoops?
I am standing here sweating worse than a pig in the summer sun because my graduation robe weighs more than I do, but there is a plus: the robe is acting as a Kleenex or Brawny towel to absorb the sweat that is rolling off of my neck and back. I must have already lost 20 pounds. Other classmates are standing around in their own circles just how they did in the past 12 years--certain levels of people always flock together. I've seen this for myself and this too makes me even more sad that this day is even happening.
" . . .where's the parties later?" I hear a husky football player ask. I think to myself, you are already feeling the affects of some Jack Daniels Old No. 7.
And honestly--there is that soft, but barely audible sound of many voices speaking and blending into one scary voice. A voice that you would hear in the background music chosen for the documentary, "Montauk: Camp Hero," that exposed the Federal government's secret psychological experiments on innocent citizens. The music is really a mixture of Simon and Garfunkle, Mary Hopkins, and the Celtic Choir on tour. Goosebumps rising on the back, my friend. This is all I can say. I want this moment to last forever as long as forever means forever.
Why? Now you must hear my answer: You would have to be me in the past (at this time) as I stand soaked in sweat in that high school matching colored grad robe with my face pale as any corpse ready for a wake. Graduation has arrived. No. Not graduation. That is all too easy. That creepy old spotlight with creepy music is standing admist my classmates yakk and yakk, but do not see the spotlight as its beam grows brighter and brighter making my nerves scream to let me alone.
Now this is getting serious. I am blinded by the spotlight (sorry, Manfred Mann and the Earth Band), and I am paralyzed. I can't move. I can hear. But I cannot move. Maybe this is a Nazi dream. Or a dream concocted by the North Vietnamese to infiltrate America in such covert ways--sneaking into an old, broken down spotlight once used by those big car lots to show the new models on display. You know. In the mid 1950s. The beam of light is now wide-open. Shame. My senior class cannot fathom just how peaceful this moment really is.
My eyes focus on a boy and a girl both entering separate doors to the gymnasium. I only stand frozen in the spotlight. I know that there is something here for me to learn . . .so why should I run? I can't run. I forget that so many times. Maybe this entire gig is one big dream caused by some bad Acid. Naaaw. I never touch the stuff. Dangerous thing, Acid. Harmful to one's chromosomes. Same as letting Death stab me face-to-face.
" . . .there is something for you to learn, young man. Something really important." says the spotlight now with its lens acting as a pair of lips. The spotlight is serious. This is no joke. Or else I have died and no one cares. This is sure a funny way to pass from life to the eternities dressed in a sweat-soaked grad robe. Why couldn't I have died in a uniform of honor such as the ones worn by our soldiers in Vietnam, Iraq and those in World War(s) I and II plus that silly Korean Conflict. Why? If only.
In the next (what seems to me as an hour) 32 seconds, spotlight has tracked me from my birth to this moment in a high school in rural northwest Alabama. Not a high school in San Diego, but Hamilton, Ala. And now when the spotlight tells me of what important thing that I need to learn, I start to cry and cry loudly. So loudly that I am caving in as I bend over to the tile floor in the hallway. Even the seniors parting in each door to march up to sit on stage and later be given their sheepskins, do not notice that something is definitely going on here. Stupid people. You made straight As but cannot see that I am about to pass out.
" . . .young man, you are a chosen soul and you now hold (the) power . . ." spotlight says and then I see the blurred image of a grin.
" . . .me? A power? Me? . . ."
And in the next 22 seconds, I have now relaxed and accepted the fact that "the power" spoken of by the spotlight is an invisible power that is handed out to all people at those most important times of their lives. But not all of the events are important enough to prompt having "the power." This power cannot be bought, created, or manufactured by mankind or machine. It's a real power. A power that cannot influence, but it can affect the ones it works for. And it has and will work for those who are willing to keep their mouths shut tight. Not every ear that hears people holding "the power" can or will understand. These people had rather label the ones with "the power" as fools. True fact of life since time began.
"This power," according to this old, rusty spotlight . . .is defined as: See me in the hallway? What if I just turned a deaf ear to the spotlight and just walked like the other brainwashed sheep? I would be just like them. No different. Just a sheep.
But with "this power," says the spotlight, I have . . .the power in my hands to: walk my own ways in life; write things that will be misunderstood by the common thinkers; sing music that "this power"can give me to write; I have that power more powerful than the universe in the sense that I can ignite any amount of unused choices in my soul and use them now or wait until a day or so is over.
I can just go with life and let life take me where life takes me knowing that many around me will hurt by this choice although it is not a dark choice. It is a tough choice. Cold by nature. I can walk right up and talk to the face of our own President of The United States and not be thrown in prison because of my length of hair. Hippies were given prison sentences due to their long hair because they were protesting the Vietnam War. My hair is long now, but because of it being my choice.
There is absolutely nothing that I cannot do as long as I hold to "the power." That power that I am holding tells me that I am free as a bird right now and right now is emphasized. I am not tied or bogged down by natural things in life such as promissory notes where I will borrow a few hundred dollars and pay the loan back with my own soul. Seems like a harsh deal to me.
And if I were to not take that march waiting for me on the other side of the gymnasium and just walk out and head on into life? Of course, I would drop the grad robe in a place where it won't get dirty and as for my diploma, no employer ever is going to ask to see proof that I am a high school graduate.
"This power" frees me as long as I want to be free. It takes me doing something in return for the unending freedom. I can live in the woods and eat off the land and never pay taxes if I so choose. "This power" is mine to use in these ways.
Even the teachers, high school principal, and classmates do not and cannot fathom just how powerful "this power" in my hands really is. They are blind to the fact that I am just looking pale and stupid and as far as they know I am just a common high school senior ready to graduate.
"This power" that I am holding in my hand, what can or will I let "this power" do in my life? How much? How long? Where? How? Whom?
It's really unreal, unbelievable, and I cannot see the end of "this power." But even with (a) power such as "this power" which has seldom been discovered or registered to the U.S. Patents Office--and booked on every (credible) talk show on the Continental United States . . .there is a price. I mean a severe price. The spotlight, a clever invention, just waited long enough to share this next part: "yes, young man, you (are) holding "this power" that if you hold on to it, magical things will be at your fingertips. Did you know that, son?" spotlight asked.
"Sure, but, listen, why can't I and "this power" be best friends?" I asked hoping that spotlight will reach into his rusty motor compartment and give me the answer that will liberate my life.
"Young man, I will put your answer into these terms: "this power" is yours and you will be able to enjoy everything that your mortal heart can conjure, just as long as . . .you stay inside this . . .hallway. Let your friends in robes be common, bland, and without flash and name. It's up to you . . ." spotlight said looking really beat to the wires now.
I stood there (what I thought was) a good ten or eleven minutes. I looked at my classmates. Then at the spotlight. And then to "this power." My eyes, wide with excitement and ambition were mixed waiting for Rita, my willowy brunette, who studied nursing in the school's Job Achievement area, to meet me and march with her in our graduation march.
But still, "this power" was far more important and powerful than any graduation. With a power like this one, I could be anyone that I wanted to be. Live wherever that I wanted to live and work at any occupation that my heart desired.
There was the rub. The fly in the perfect scheme. I just had to ask this weary spotlight and see what would happen if I did take the pathway of just walking out of my high school building--ignoring my graduation exercises, parents, friends who were sitting in those ratty bleachers.
"you can hold 'this power' as long as your life continues on this earth, young man," said the spotlight. "But, when you become entangled into those ruts of life and that corrupted American Dream of getting the right education, getting the right job, marrying the right girl and signing off on a mortgage plus paying for a car or two, clothes, and then the kids and the price tag that they carry . . .will take every ounce of 'this power' out of your hands forever," the spotlight said.
"Forever?" I asked now very scared.
"Forever," spotlight said.
Oh, now what was I going to do? Did these classmates, parents, friends not know how powerful "this power" was that was sitting in my hand?
I could do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, and as much as I wanted . . .I kept pondering the options.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery