My (not so) finest hours

It’s Friday. That means a memoir-in-progress flashback to the big hair and big dreams of the 1980s.

From the pages of My Senior Drear, the day-by-day, hour-by-hour log of each day of my four years of tormenting classmates, teachers and administrators at Belle High School …

Monday, Feb. 23, 1981 – Second hour (astronomy). Some stuff about Saturn. Ten or 11 moons, rings are made out of chunks of ice, blah blah blah … and these notes:

“Uranus orbits the sun once for every 84 earth years. It has five moons … Tim asks Mr. Abel how many of the moons could fit in Uranus. Mr. A. ignored him … I asked Tim how many moons he thought would fit in Uranus. Tim says, ‘We’re not talking about myanus. I’m wondering about Uranus.’ However, I respectfully insisted, ‘Myanus ain’t nobody’s business.’”

Laughter. Hysterical laughter. (At least from me and Tim).

“Mr. A. says he’s worried about me and Tim … Worried we’re going to end up in prison someday.”

How to not win

In a moment I’ll present the evidence of one of the most bone-headed decisions I ever made – at least up to the point of me being 17-years-old. I was a speech-and-debate nerd and excelled in original oratory (wrote a speech, memorized it, delivered it in compelling, convincing manner); debate (when we were on the “affirmative” side, Jack Smith and I advocated for banning tobacco products, and we wiped out the competition … until we came up against state champion debaters from Pattonville High); and extemporaneous speaking.

I was a wiz at extemp. You’d draw a topic from a bowl or hat, then you had 30 minutes to jot down an outline or ideas on a notecard. When your name was called, you presented a five- or six-minute persuasive speech.

Sometimes the topic related to a current event of the day, and me being a news nerd and all, I’d knock those speeches out of the park. I was the conference champion. (I LOVED extemp and, to this day, seem to have the gift of gab.)

And then I got stupid. And arrogant.

You see, one strategy of extemporaneous speaking was to assume a position opposite from the prevailing public opinion. I could advocate for or against nuclear energy. (How many of you kids out there remember when the Callaway Plant wasn’t there? I warned against the civilization-ending certainty of unmanageable nuclear waste or the national security danger of depending on fossil fuels and foreign oil for our energy). I could convince an astronaut that space travel was wasteful and unnecessary.

So there I was in the spring of 1981, in the semi-final round of the state speech and debate tournament in Jefferson City. The questions we chose from related to state policy. I was on a roll.

And then I reached into a tumbler and pulled out the folded piece of paper with my question: “Should Missouri legalize prostitution?”

Conventional wisdom said, “Don’t get cute here.”

But I was much less conventional back in 1981. I prepared a note card (below, just the front included here) with an outline that I was sure would convince anyone that, of course, we should legalize the world’s oldest profession.

I strutted into the room, already wondering what my championship round speech topic might be, when I realized the judge was a woman older than my grandparents.

I stayed the course of unconventional.

The judge was unconvinceable.

It was my final speech of the state tournament.

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2 Comments

Filed under MIP: Memoir-in-progress

2 responses to “My (not so) finest hours

  1. Bruce Wallace

    You wound up being right – which, for a guy, is more important than winning. I bet you don’t ask for directions when driving and lost, either. Good man. Well done!

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