As Episode I drew to a close, I was stepping on to the stage at Byram Hiils High School in Armonk, New York to address the assembled students and teachers as a candidate for student council president, having been nominated by an ad hoc committee of my friends (who definitely were not at all interested in student government and who acted without my knowledge). I was wearing my friend's brother's authentic, torn Army jacket that smelled like burnt sage (if you catch my drift), and as I opened my mouth to speak I had no idea what I was going to say.
“My fellow Americans,” I began. Or maybe not—I don’t remember. Who remembers anything clearly from that long ago? (My daughter Laura would say centuries ago, because that’s how old she thinks I am.) But I did begin my speech something like that. “I’m not going to make any promises,” I said, “because politicians are always making promises.” And then I added, “But I’m also not going to promise not to make any promises, because that would be a promise, and I just said I’m not going to make any promises.”
I went on for the allotted time of ten minutes or so. Since I made the speech up on the spot and there is no record, I can’t tell you for sure what I said. Whatever I did say, it was well received—at the reunion someone told me it was a great speech, but they had been drinking—and I went on to win the election by a plurality, garnering just short of 50% of the vote. I think I won that vote on entertainment value.
My victory did not please the powers-that-be. I was not, shall we say, student council president material, regardless of what almost half my class said. Since Byram Hills was a new school at that time, there was no process is place for such a circumstance. Mr. Fred Green, the teacher who was overseeing the election, called us in to say the president couldn’t win by a plurality and informed us that there was to be a run-off election between the two top candidates. It was pretty obvious to everyone present that Mr. Green and company had made this rule up because they didn’t want a long-hair like Sam Barry as the student council president.
And maybe they were right. I really wasn’t fond of staying after school, which was required of a student council member. I wasn’t even fond of coming to school during regular hours. Still, I wonder if it might not have been a moment for all of us to step out of our comfort zone—me, stuck in my mischievous bad boy role, and Mr. Green, wanting a normal student council with the standard issue A-student type in place as president. What if he had accepted the initial results and challenged me to be a class leader? Would I have risen to the occasion?
However, that didn’t happen. The run-off election took place and I essentially got the same amount of votes, while my opponent received his original amount plus those of the other candidates who had been removed from the ballot, or just over 50%.
I really haven’t thought much about that election in the years since. It was a good story to tell now and then, but that was about it. However, Mr. Green, who was at our reunion a few weeks ago, brought it up first thing. He remembers that election better than I do. It turns out he still has mixed feelings about it all, in no small part because my next-door neighbor Peg Freed, mother of Amy (who we all had a crush on) and Chris apparently called Mr. Green up at 11 PM one night not long after that election and balled him out for stealing the student council presidency from me, after which she abruptly hung up on him. I was touched to learn that Peg Freed had made this call; Mr. Green, on the other hand, appears to have been scarred for life.
I reassured Mr. Green that all was well between us. He is a nice man and was a good, hardworking teacher, and as far as I am concerned dedicated public school teachers are among the saints. Another such saint who came to the reunion was Mr. Ed Moy, the math teacher who had the honor of encountering me in the hallway with a lit cigarette in my mouth when I was in eleventh grade. Back in those days, children, this was a cardinal offense. I was basically saying, “Yes, I am breaking the rules—what are you going to do about it?” By eleventh grade my relationship with school had deteriorated considerably. Mr. Moy had no choice but to escort me to the principal’s office, where they informed me that I had two choices: drop out, or go to an alternative high school called Educage. I may have been an idiot, but I wasn’t stupid; I chose Educage, which, as it turned out, was for the best.
It was, for me, a wonderful reunion. Walter “Skip” Savage was there, in case anyone’s heart might give out; the lovely and focused Serina Lancia, who really had very little to do with our class back in the day, pulled the whole thing together, along with Ken “The Dentist” Schweitzer. I saw Sam Okeefe, smiling as ever; Bill O’Neill kicked my ass at pool; we played music at Jeff Hahn’s house in Windmill Farms, just like in the old days—although added to the mix was Grant “The Composer” Sturiale; there was Emily Walzer, with whom I learned to dance in sixth grade, and Sara Helmrich, Richard Friedman, Sandy Anderson, Stephen Viscusi, Ronny Miller, and if I keep going I will just list the entire group, so I will stop. Except I must mention two other old friends I saw there—Erlend Kimmich and Regis Goodwin, my campaign committee.
It was good to be there among such a nice group of people. I was happy to remember, to be in my place of origin, the place that will, in a sense, always be my home. It seems you can go home again, to touch the ground, hug a few people, visit a few old cherished sites. And then onward.