Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dirty Politics

Some of my out-of-state friends have been asking what it's like to have Jerry Brown as the governor of California again. And I reply "It makes me feel seven." Which could be perceived as a good thing--the freshness and optimism of youth, the innocent lack of disillusionment with government, etc. But there is a dark side to my response which is not superficially apparent. You see, I have a bit of a history with Governor Jerry Brown, a history that a wiser and more discreet person would not share here. But when have I ever been accused of wisdom or discretion?

It was early in '74, Dear Readers, and I was in second grade. I had recently been tapped for some suspect niche programming at my elementary school called MGM--Mentally Gifted Minors. (I ask you--what genius came up with this name?) Because of this "honor," I was obligated to spend time with these evil people on a weekly basis, vile and abusive boys who would grow up to own companies, gimlet-eyed girls who snickered every time I mumbled into my Peter Pan collar (I was powerful shy) and--the worst of them all--The Dread Mrs. Cohen, our teacher, she of the Mondrian-print mini-dresses and swingy blunt-cut blond hair parted in the middle who openly rolled her eyes (rolled her eyes, Readers! My tender heart!) whenever I spoke.

So maybe I wasn't meant for the MGM crowd. If that had been in doubt before, it was made abundantly clear on this fateful day. The day that we were taken on a "special" field trip to visit the campaign offices of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. I had seen pictures of this Jerry Brown, and he was a good-looking chap, if very, very old--I'm talking Dad old. I was excited to go somewhere on a bus in the middle of a school day, and had dressed up for the occasion in my thick, white polyester shirt dress bedecked in giant strawberries, finished with a fabric-covered buckle belt. On my feet, a rare treat: shiny, white patent leather Mary Janes with lacy socks.

I remember very little of the field trip, and probably wouldn't remember it at all if it weren't for what I'm about to share with you. We disembarked at a nondescript warehouse in downtown SomewhereorOther and toured a blue-carpeted lobby adorned with a massive portrait of the man in question. A cheery lady welcomed us and told us a bunch of things which meant nothing to me. I couldn't get my mind around what a governor was for, let alone what it meant to "run" for one. It was a baffling morning which I spent in solitary, an island of childhood lonely in a sea of whispering and giggling cliques, all enjoying their furlough from the pen. I sat alone listening to the speeches, and I walked alone pretending to read maps and time lines tacked to the walls.

The place was not pretty, and felt temporary in a way I wouldn't have been able to describe then. The second floor had echoing concrete floors and walls, and the stuff on the walls was hung crookedly and seemed about to fall off. It was boring to the nth degree. I didn't want to look stupid, but when the guide asked if we had questions, I wouldn't have known what to ask even if I hadn't been pathologically shy about hearing my voice in public. I could hear my tummy growling and thought longingly of my American cheese sandwich back at school. And now I could feel another urge, becoming more pressing by the moment. I needed to pee.

At first it was just a vague desire, and I thought about asking The Dread Mrs. Cohen if there was a bathroom around. But something told me that it wouldn't be appropriate to ask. I had no idea what a "governor" was, much less a "candidate," but whatever faulty interior adviser I had on retainer that morning told me in no uncertain terms that--whatever they were--they didn't go to the bathroom.

And so I kept quiet. I strolled around, pretending to study blueprints, feeling increasingly miserable. At first I was uncomfortable. Then I was agonized. My back teeth ached. I crossed my legs so tightly I almost fell over. Time passed. It seemed like a lot of time. Hours, possibly. The cheery campaign flunkie gathered us into a little group so she could explain yet another excruciatingly dull aspect of something. And it was there that my agony passed over into desperation, which always leads to some sort of rationalization. But instead of deciding to saw my own arm off, I reasoned that I should just go ahead and pee. After all, who would notice? The floor was cement. And maybe governors have dogs! That's it--everyone will blame it on the dog.

So I peed. Oh, the relief. I felt it run into my lacy socks and pool in my Mary Janes. And then there was the puddle on the floor. Oh well. The dog. The Dread Mrs. Cohen was many things, but dumb was not one of them. Almost instantly, she started moving the other children away from the puddle, whispering "Don't step in the..." She trailed off. Since I was the puddle, I was left alone. She looked at me sadly, then looked away.

On the bus, I did not have a bus buddy. No one mentioned it. While we often have delusional memories of our childhood, I honestly think no one noticed except The Dread Mrs. Cohen, and she kept everyone away from me. Children are so wonderfully narcissistic at that age. But I still blame The Dread Mrs. Cohen for ignoring me completely. Not offering me one smidgen of comfort or reassurance. The closest she came to acknowledging my suffering was the announcement, right before we boarded the bus: "If anyone needs to use the restroom, I can show you where it is." Now you tell me that governors pee like the rest of us.

When I got back to school, I stepped off the bus and started walking, and didn't stop until I was home. Either no one noticed or no one cared. My mother made me a grilled cheese while I was in the bath. When I got back to school, no one asked why my dress was now blue.

Later, I heard that Jerry Brown was elected governor. That wasn't too interesting, but then he started dating Linda Ronstadt, which was. I loved her, and used to sing "You're No Good" out the window with my friends to a boy we liked who lived in the cul-de-sac. So I guess Jerry Brown was alright.

So when people ask me, what's it like? Having him around again? I want to say: it makes me reflect on the human condition. Ah, they might say, nodding. The youngest California governor ever, and the oldest, too. Of course.

Only that's not what I mean at all.


Michelle said...

My eyes are teary little about young, sweet Sam in all her urine. Man. That was painful and so very well told. I love you, Sam. I can see why you were (and still are, just in a grown up way) a MGM.

And really--rolled her eyes at you? Yep, sounds like someone who should be working with the gifted. Hmph!

Michelle said...

^thinking about little young, sweet Sam. . .

LunaMoonbeam said...

Oh dear.....I don't think I'm brave enough to post my story on my blog, but I'll tell you here. In first grade, I spoiled a surprise party for my twin sister's teacher's aid. Myrnie's STERN teacher marched up to my classroom, as my class was lined up to walk to the music building, and marched me down the breezeway to her own classroom so I could apologize to the class for ruining the surprise. I was so terrified, I wet myself on the walk over.

When I got to the classroom...hardly anyone even looked up from their projects to hear me. They didn't care - they still got cupcakes and soda pop, after all.

Ten years, two cities and three schools later, I was in high school, and my younger siblings were in elementary school. And guess who shows up as my youngest sister's first grade teacher? Yes. Mrs. Sterny-pants herself. She'd changed schools. No, I never did go and talk to her.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

What is it about blue dresses and politics?

Sam, this is the sweetest post ever. I cherish your stories and savor your talent in your telling of them.

Jen said...

"an island of childhood lonely in a sea of whispering and giggling cliques, all enjoying their furlough from the pen." You are brilliant, baby!

I'm serious. I've always sort of thought this but this post really crystallizes it for me: you are like our generation's Sylvia Plath or something! (Not in terms of your current personal life, of course! But in terms of your talent as a writer.)

Would you PLEASE write a novel already?

(And I LOVED this post, too, because it is so sweet and cynical at the same time. I was in that MGM program too and I always thought it felt like it was named after a casino. :-)

Joan said...

A sadly sweet post. I wanted to gather you up, dry you, and give you a big kiss. Love J

Mary said...

Oh Sam,

I wish I had been your teacher. I would have had a spare pair of undies in my purse!



Stephanie said...

What an awful woman, great post sweetie.

Laural Out Loud said...

What an association! It reminds me to show more compassion to others. I had a horrible first grade teacher, and I was terrified of asking to use the restroom. I always made it through the day, but there were quite a few times I peed my tights in the car.

Caroline Bridges said...

You've described this element of childhood so well. I can really relate. I had an incident like this at school, but I was in seventh grade. It was all fine until they took me to the nurse's office to wait for new pants and sat me on the bed next to that of one of the coolest/meanest guys in school. It was 1982, and this guy and his friends looked like Human League, walking around campus and sneering at everyone. He never let me forget it. Twerp. You hear that, twenty-eight years ago guy? You're a twerp! Only I've learned some better words since then.

I hate your teacher.

I adore you.

And, yes, write a book. The world demands it.

(Love your kitty, Mary!)