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.