Author’s note:This is satire. This was written eight years ago in part as a self-reflection of that era of my life. Readers should beware it is about 80’s teenagers and thus is not quite “PG” but is in that ballpark. I do believe there are good messages to learn here even if it is just comedic nostalgia for a bygone era.
It was the summer of 2029, and the fire crackled and then let out a huge pop! Looking up from the dancing ruby red coals that glowed into the night I looked around the circle at the kids gathered around roasting weenies and marshmallows. Some things never change no matter how old you get. It was three days until school started and my heart hung heavy in my well- aged chest. It would be my young Jonathan’s senior year. Jonathan always was the greatest of the practical jokers in the Lawson clan. We all liked a good “funny;” it was an undeniable family trait. Of all my grandchildren, I had noticed that Jonathan had a great talent in him to make the impossible happen, to convince people to follow where he went, and raise a cause up out of the thin summer night air. I had been secretly listening to him, and his buddies plan their senior prank for the better part of the season now. I am not too old to understand it. Every class tries toout do the last one. But I knew my Johnny and for him good was never good enough. Worst of all, he had the inner smarts in his essence to make things happen and put people in action that otherwise would not have come together. He reminded me of someone I knew well and caused my mind to wander to the days of my “greenness” of life.
“Johnny, did I ever tell you about my epic senior prank?” I asked him in front of the whole group, seemingly out of the thin summer air, as I was raising one eyebrow and sticking a marshmallow on the end of my stick and putting it in the fire.
“Gramps, I’m pretty sure there was only eight of you when you got on the ark with your senior class.” Johnny joked in return, and all his friends laughed, even though most of them didn’t get the joke.
“Come on now Johnny,” I goaded back, meeting his wit for my wit, “I might be old enough to have played football with Moses in my senior year, but I assure you I never even met Noah; I am not that old! Besides, in those days I’d likely been apter to join the swim team rather than the boating team!” Johnny was the only one to laugh, the others had no idea it was even a telltale joke but the giggle I let slip out told on myself.
“Grampa Lawson, you were a trickster? Tell me! Tell me! Tell me” begged little Annie from down the street and a few other kids chimed in, “Tell us Grampa, tell us Grampa!” My stories at the campfire had become famous over the years.
All these kids were like my own. They grew up all calling me Gramps. I was amazed that they all still minded me and yet I knew my years of influence upon them was slipping despite their still, very real, love for me. Everyone grows up and when they do they do want they think is right no matter how much they loved those who helped grow them up. I knew my time of influence was slipping away, but I thought I might just have in me one last campfire lesson to pass on.
“Listen up kids, do I ever have a doozy for you tonight!” I exclaimed popping my perfectly cooked marshmallow in my mouth and gobbling it down as it burnt the back of my throat. I stroked my old white beard of wisdom hoping to impart a yarn of yesteryear which would be prophetic wisdom for the future.
“But you have to promise never to tell a soul! For what I am about to tell you I have never mentioned to anyone since I was Johnny’s age! I mean it! Those who lived the tale know it well. It is still well echoed in the halls of that school all these years later but what they don’t know is who started it. Who is really at blame for what happened that year, who it was that pulled off the infamous epic prank of the class of 89!”
A “woo” sound hushed over the youth gathered around my fire, and I noticed them all settle back and get comfy for the one last famous tale from Grampa Lawson.
“The year was 1989, and as luck would have, it was forecasted be a light winter as I do recall. For that part of Canada, where I grew up, that means the snow might only get up to the window sill in October not to the roof as it would later that year in December. So it was “banner time” when school went back in at Midtown Secondary High that Monday after Labor Day. What could go wrong when you’re promised a light winter in Canada, eh?
It was my senior year and all we Seniors wanted to go out with a bang. The general talk around the lockers was we wanted to top all graduating year pranks of all the previous years before us. And there had been some epic pranks laid down before us as competition. Just two years before us the Senior Class had hidden alarm clocks all over the library that kept randomly going off every Study Period. It took the whole first semester for the librarian, Ole Miss Katie, to find them all. And three years before that, the senior class slowly, a little each day, all week long, filled the swimming pool with packets of Jello mix before leaving for spring break and thus by the time of their return “voila” it was a strawberry lime disaster! And just five years ago the Class of 1984 stole the keys to the Vice Principal’s car and drove it in the front lobby and parked it outside her office door and painted parking lines on the floor and hung a sign on the wall that read, “This spot is reserved for Vice- Principal Mandel. Violators will be towed at their own expense.”
So, the way we saw it, the usual senior pranks like saran wrapping the shop teachers car so he could not get in; or pantsing the female gym teacher in front of assembly; or even the ever-diabolical and classic adding a chocolate laxative to the muffin mix the Lunch Room Ladies used to make the brownies was all old hat to us. We wanted to do something fresh; something amazing. We wanted to be legendary! We wanted to soar with the wind. We wanted to so awe generations to come. We dreamed of being the chronicles of whispers at late night sleepovers for decades. We wanted not only our children to hear about it when they went to school, but we also wanted our grandchildren to hear about it and their kids too!
The problem was we were stumped! I mean seriously, how do you top turning the hallway in front of the vice principals office in a tow zone private parking spot? No one could think of a single thing to do. It was a wash! We had been defeated five years before we ever began. All our expectations were so high that even the biggest jokesters cowered in fear to make suggestions in case their pathetic efforts met with public ridicule. For no one, thus far, could think of anything that was not dismissed right away by just about everyone.
It was not like ideas were not suggested. It was more like they were consistently shot down. I mean there was that one idea about inserting a Penthouse pin-up into the middle of the yearbook when it went to print but no one could agree on which month’s pin-up to use. Oh, of course, there was that one suggestion of slipping alcohol into the principal’s coffee and getting “Old Man Conners” drunker than a skunk on parent/teacher night. But come on really? It was not like he did not know what alcohol tasted like. It would never work! For a moment, some stoner name Miller, suggested we use a certain drug that could kind of look like powdered coffee creamer. Sure you could slip it in easy enough, but no one wanted to do the type of time that would require if they got caught. Hey, let’s face it, a gag like that is bringing the fuzz in for sure!
Lastly, someone came up with an epic idea of the “Ultimate Battle of the Bands.” You know where all the rock bands in the school compete for the title of Best Band, only somehow they would convince the teachers to be the performers, and then some of the female students could become like groupies and perhaps get some unsuspecting teacher in a very compromising picture. Getting a teacher fired would have even been bigger than parking a car in a hallway any day! And it was an easy enough thing to walk back later as just a misleading picture that got took the wrong way by an overzealous PTA leader.
The way we saw it what aging middle age, lowly paid teacher, at least in our then estimation, would pass up the chance to relive their youth as a rock star?—It seemed fool proof! Well, we gave it a shot, and it almost worked, but only one teacher’s band came out to perform. It was Mr. Geenie the Art teacher on bass, Mr. Johnson the janitor on lead guitar, Mr. Hobbs the History teacher on drums. And, yes, who could forget Mr. “Slickster” Sampson as the lead singer. Sadly, they were still on their first song, “Road House Blues” by the Doors, when Slickster Sampson with his oiled-back hair and tight fitting spandex jumped up to do a rock and roll styled ninja kick and his big old fat hairy belly slipped out of his tight fitting t-shirt and flapped around exposed for all to see. The sight was so disturbing lunches were lost, several people in the crowd were temporally blinded, and no girl in the senior, class no matter what her rep and no matter what the fame of the prank would bring would go near him.
Slickster Sampson was no Jim Morrison, but he tried!
It was brutal. We were stuck. And hey, people were looking to yours truly for answers. I was the resident outsider and back in those days that a level of cool on its own! I was not a jock, not a nerd, and not a prep; those pretty boys bothered me! I was a Rocker and to make it as a rocker in the tuff crowd of high school peers you had to be top dog dangerously droll troll funny. I was head of the class clowns. It was like Stealer Wheels had said in that song, “Clowns to the left, jokers to the right and I am stuck in the middle with you.” I have to admit for the first time in my troubled teen years I had no idea how to get us into any real trouble. My full status of a rebel rocker was on the red-line here! What good to the group is a rebel rocker who has no ideas on how we can rebel!
I could not sleep, I could not eat, I could not even make out with the cheerleaders! I swore off even listening to Van-Halen as my own personal Lent to pay penance to the gods of creativity! I was focused. I had to find an answer. We needed a gag, a prank, a stunt to beat all stunts, and it was at that moment I saw it… “ sign.” I was as shocked as anyone; this Lent thing had worked! Yes, it came to me like a sign from Heaven, well maybe Hell, but at the time it seemed like Heaven. Yes, it was a sign. It was a real sign that read, “Student Government Elections… select your nominations now.”
Now I want to be as polite about this as possible. Because at this point of life is the time you start feeling sorry for the choices you made in haste in your youth. Poor Cobert Slobmere was an innocent victim, a helpless bystander, who was the sacrificial offering to the god of gags for the class of 1989. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. Sure when I was a kid I was a jerk like all kids. I didn’t care. My rep in those days as the rebel rocker was more important than how others felt. All I can tell is that to this day, I just still feel guilty. Maybe this night, around this fire, was meant to be my confessional? You see, Cobert was just not normal. You know what I’m saying? Ok Ok, it’s true I am soft peddling here. So I admit it, he slouched, he dragged his feet like Michael Jackson moonwalking but only when he was going forwards not backward like a real moon walk. Watching that guys walk like that was unforgettable. And it was not like he was mentally challenged at all, it was more like what most of us would politely call “slow.” OK perhaps really slow. OK, OK I admit it . . . he was downright turtle slow. It was just whom he was. He chose to beat to another drum. He was what in the 80’s we’d call, “The odd man out.”
Who knew a person could actually moonwalk forward?
I am not proud of what I did back then to poor Cobert. But understand, someone had to save that class of 1989, and they were all looking at me! I know it was not one of my better moments. I like to tell myself I said it only as a joke because that helps, somehow, lessen the guilt. I did not think anyone would actually try what I said. So many other suggestions were shot down so fast I’d assume this one would be too. I can’t blame anyone but myself! I turned to the guy standing beside me, who just happened to be the most popular kid in school, and I said, “Hey Danny, we should nominate Cobert Slobbermere for Class President, would that not be a huge hoot ‘n a half!” Then I added the fatal last words that no matter how many years I repent I cannot shake and will never make up for, “They want senior prank? There it is Cobb Slob for Prez, what a ring that has to it!”
And that is all I had to say. Danny was the most popular kid in the school. Danny, had the perfect hair, dressed in the latest designer clothes, had the perfect girl on his arm, all his lines were smooth, and his jokes well laughed at. He was as fit as a fiddle, ran track, played B-ball, and was on the swim team. He was, quite simply, a perfect blend of prep and jock any high school had ever seen. He, himself, was slated as a shoe in for the job as Student Government President, and everyone knew he wanted the job and could win. But from that second on he took off running with the idea and named himself Cobb Slob’s official surrogate and campaign manager.
Cobb Slob’s political future was well under way, and I was never heard from again on the issue. I admit it. I ran from it. I was sure there was no way Cobb could get himself elected even with Danny backing him. But I wanted no part of the rap if fate actually let it stand. It could have been my ultimate glory; I could have finally had my 15 minutes of fame as the one who came up with the epic prank of the class of 1989. Somehow deep in the nethermost regions of my inner being, I sensed I had unleashed a hilariously funny joke that would have a real punch line that would leave a severe bruising of the arm of the class of ‘89. And to this day, until this very moment, I have never admitted to a soul I started it all. But I did sit back in horror and watch the insanity start to unroll, and chaos take hold with amusement at what I had begun! By the end of the day, the whole school had become a circus over the announcement the “Cobb Slob” was running for Student Council President. The joke was in the air and everyone loved the vibe it was giving off. By the three o’clock bell kids had begun to chant it in the hallways, “Cobb Slob for Prez! Cobb Slob for Prez!” Me, I stayed clear of it all knowing, it was my evil design, and nobody would ever know it.
You have to understand nobody thought it could happen. If we believed for a second, it could happen there is no way in the world one vote would have been cast. Sure Danny was not running, because for Danny, the fame of the joke was better than the pay of popularity for being the President. With me quietly stepping aside, Danny got all
Ferris Bueller and his gang are the perfect examples of 80’s cool kids.
the glory. But we still had an exquisite reason to believe Cobb could not win because when people found out Danny was not running, then the floodgates opened with kids who thought now they’d get their shot. But other fine people did. Anyone who ever secretly dreamed of being president ran that year; and why not? After all who could not beat Cobert? Everyone who ran that year figured they were a shoe in with someone like Cobert being the primary ticket on the ballot that year. The head cheerleader ran, the captain of the football team ran, even stoner Miller ran on the platform of legalizing Marry Jane in the Shop Wing! It was crazy! Heck if a recall right, “Pee Pee Pants” Pete Peterson ran and a chance to finally redeem his not so good name. He got his nickname after Mr. “No Neck” Hugo, one of the History teachers, refused to give him a hall pass and he ended up wetting his pants right there in 11th grade World and Society History class. So you have to understand while the guys and I all openly admitted to advocating voting for Cobert we assumed others were, too, as a joke; no one ever dreamed he could win with so many options out there.
I will never forget that cold, cold Tuesday morning, sitting in assembly first period before the school had gotten warmed up. The whole school sat there as the Principle counted out the ballots from the day before. He had a table for each person running. He walked over and put a sign on each table for that candidate as he proclaimed, “Listen, there will be no allegations of voter’s fraud on my watch so as I count out each person’s vote, I will personally walk over to their table hold up the ballot for all to see and place it on their table so there can be no mistake.”
So he started. The first vote was surprising, for Cobb Slob. Hey, it could happen. I mean we knew some people had voted for him. After all, that is the gag, right? Heck, I was one of them. For all, I knew that could have been my vote and his only vote. Then the second vote was for Cobert again, and so was the third, and I felt a tension of fear rear active control in the room as the absolute madness of my plans took root right before all our eyes.
I sank into my assembly chair, thinking to myself, “No, no, no, no flipping way this happens, stop the count, it was a dang joke!” Then the forth; also for Cobert, and the fifth same, and the sixth–Cobert, and the seventh, and the eighth and on and on and on and on all to Cobert!
It was insanity! It was lunacy and hysteria all mixed and seasoned with feverishness delirium and served on a plate. We all sat there in that freezing cold auditorium watching the unthinkable happen! It was then, right there in that cold hall the truth of the matter sank in. There was no such thing as a light winter in Canada. We’d been duped. Because the coldness I found in my heart towards Cobert and my whole senior class suddenly spread to my entire body, and I prayed for some kind of reprieve from this madness I had made! We could not believe our eyes! You could have heard a pin drop in the freezing cold Canadian auditorium that Tuesday morning as the votes were counted.
Every single vote cast was for Cobert except one vote for each of the other candidates who had, of course, voted for themselves. Think about it, not even their best friends voted for them, not even their girlfriends and boyfriends, and thus there would be many break-ups that night as the reality of whom abandoned whom at the hour of their great need sunk in. The first result of the election was instant realizations of broken promises and broken relationships among the best friends and the top couples of our senior year! Every single vote except the opposing candidates themselves voted for Cobb Slob. Had they not voted for themselves, Cobb Slob would have won the vote unanimously. That is all other candidates, except for “stoner” Miller, who could not help himself and just had to vote for Cobb Slob. He would later try to claim he was so high he checked the wrong box but we all knew the truth. Even stoned he got caught up in “Cobb Slob Fever!”
I will never forget Cobert’s joy, the smile on his face, the tear in his eyes; it was quite moving. You could have cued the music, and it would have been a near scene right out of Hollywood as an emotion Cobb Slob slithered across the stage dragging his feet in a frontward moonwalk manner and accepting his new position. And looking back at it now after all these years, I am glad he had such joy. It was cruel what we did; we had so belittled him that he did not even know his winning was a joke. But he would have the last harsh laugh on us. Do you want to know why? That was the last joy anyone ever had for the rest of the year.
It was a disaster! It was utter mayhem and destruction. We had singled handily, for the sake of the good joke, destroyed our senior year by putting Cobert in charge of it! The guy could barely count! He was clearly unable to fulfill the role, and the Principal should have stepped in and done something. But, instead, he decided to teach us all a lesson, and let us sit in our stew.
All social activities came to a screaming halt. All dances and even the prom was a mess. Heck as I recall, Janitor Johnson ended up being the Disc Jockey for the Valentines’ Dance that year because Cobert never hired a professional and we did not find out until that very night! Johnson did not even know who Springsteen was. Here we were living out what all future generations would call our “Glory Days” and we could not even get The Boss’s song as our soundtrack! Janitor Johnson played Beach Boys and Lionel Richie, ahem, “all night long.” As much as I like Kokomo everyone knows there are only two options to the last slow dance of the night at a school dance. The options must be Prince’s Purple Rain or Led Zeppelins Stairway To Heaven, and it is not negotiable (the two longest running slow dance songs known to 80’s teens-mankind!) The last dance just can’t be three minutes and thirty-two seconds! It just can’t! It is just wrong to end a night that way! It takes most guys three minutes alone to get up the nerve to try for a kiss or even a light peck on the cheek. Purple Rain’s whopping seven minutes and forty-seven seconds at least gave a guy a fighting chance, but let’s face it every guy there had his fingers crossed for Zeppelin’s legendary epic eight minutes and three seconds Stair Way To Heaven; so let me tell you Kokomo won’t cut it. Let me assure you, nobody, guy or gal, in the class of 1989 cared one shake what was off the Florida Keys…forget Aruba, Jamaica we don’t wanna go! Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t to Zeppelin we go?
The Purple. The Led. ‘Nuff Said.
The spring formal, I kid you not, served gingerbread cookies and jelly beans for the formal sit down dinner that we had all paid 20 dollars a plate for (in 1989) because that was Cobert’s official executive order! He said in his speech he had wanted our last dinner together to be a cheery, sweet time like Christmas. Oh! Don’t even get me started on how our football team lost the city championship because Cobert insisted on being the mascot that year, himself; no costume required. It made us the laughingstock of the town, and our core players rarely showed up to games out of shame. Imagine playing in the city finals, and the fans of your opposing team are mocking you by cheering, “Cobb Slob, Cobb Slob, he’s their Prez, he shows their fate, yes he can!”
I could go on telling you disaster after disaster, but that would last all night. Good old Cobb Slob had the last laugh on us all! As Student Government President he had the final say on all social activities for the year and we had no recourse. Plus he refused to be reasoned with, after all, everyone voted for him. He had the power to veto all other ideas, and he used it well. Because he truly believed people voted him in because they felt his particular beat to a certain drum was brilliant!
We had set out to make a prank no one would ever forget, and that is exactly what we did! To this day, every year at election time the class of ‘89 is well remembered and talked about. Yeppers, we sure did get famous! We will never be forgotten. We set out to make a prank, a stunt, a standard joke. And we, ourselves, became that joke. It turned out it was a cold winter, after all, all year long. Let this be a twofold lesson to all who hear this story:
1) Always take your vote seriously, and
2) be careful what you say when standing next to a guy named Danny.
The kids yammered on all night; long after my old bones had gone to bed. I heard them out the window, by my fire, wondering if I was just putting “the fear” in them for their upcoming senior year. There would be a few more fires that year, yet. I gobbled a few more hot mushy marshmallows, but there were no more campfire stories to tell.
Seasons pass, and those who have watched enough seasons pass well know you have a limited time in this world to tell your stories. That year, the winter came early, the spring was wet with the excitement of a pending graduation, and the summer was all about preparing for a new season of life called “college.”
As for me, I have often wondered why I carried that story with me all these years. Often I had thought about calling old Colbert up and apologizing, but that would be twice as cruel as to this very day with his limited intellect he still thinks he won that election himself. Ahh, let him have it! At least I finally got it off my chest after all these years.
Oh, and a side note about my Johnny; turns out he decided to forgo his senior prank that year after all, and he ran for Student President instead. He decided that was the only way he could ensure things got done right for his senior year. He is the first of my people ever to win any elected presidency, and despite a lot of struggles that year during his term, he did, in fact, make me very proud. The pay in weaving a yarn is in the quality of people it creates; in fact that maybe the very reason we are creative beings. I well know the legacy of the class of ’89 what is yet to be seen is how your legacy differs.
[While the author refuses to admit if this story really happened or not (that is for the class of ’89 to know and for the rest of you to debate) the author does admit that the writing of this story was in part inspired by the political climate during the 2008 presidential election and was in part meant to capture the fears expressed by several of his friends about a possible win by a certain vice president candidate who was on the ticket at that time.]