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On the bottom shelf of our office bookcase,
a torn and stained, 10 x 13 white envelope stands
unnoticed amid a row of photo albums. To anyone
but the owner, the items contained
within its cracked folds would seem unimportant:
a silver safety patrol captain's badge, a Holly
Hobby diary, a 30-page black-and-white book
tantalizingly titled "The Secret Life of
Donny Osmond." But to the owner--
who just happens to be me-- those moldy objects
immediately put me in touch with
the person I used to be: a precocious, hyper-cute,
over-achieving grade-schooler who secretly called
people "jerkoffs" and once wrote,
"I also got my period. What a bummer.
I have a feeling it's going to be a bad week."
Hmmmm, take away the "grade-schooler"
part of the description and I haven't changed much
(If I can believe what I wrote in
my diary, as a sixth-grader I was obsessed with
sports, with my weight and with older boys. Funny--
as I read these words, I am well aware that March
Madness is in full swing and I just started on
the South Beach Diet with my husband who, I hasten to
point out, is eight years my senior. It's so depressing to
know that I was fully formed by the age of 11.)
Also included in my ripped envelope of treasures,
are my yellowed notes from my sixth grade
graduation speech. Neatly handwritten and
doubled-spaced on 5x8 index cards, these words
may be the earliest example of my life as a writer
and public speaker. (Writing "Shit! Shit!
Shit!" in my diary doesn't count. Neither
does my oral presentation about gorillas-- for
which I got an A+++, I might add.)
Don't worry, I'll spare you from having to read
the entire speech. But I did find the first
paragraph fascinating. I doubt that any other
graduate from Elkin Elementary has ever been so
Nostalgia. What an important word in
everyone's vocabulary today. Our mom's remember
Johnny Mathis and bobby socks. Our dad's remember
D.A. haircuts and Marilyn Monroe. Our principal
remembers when he had hair. And we remember
Can you believe I went for the joke?
"Our principal remembers when he had
hair" There I was, standing at
a podium in front of my family, wearing a long
blue and white flowered dress purchased at Sears
and I had the guts to mock the school's main
authority figure. That's the equivalent of doing
a corporate gig and calling the president of the
company an asshole.
But, one joke wasn't enough. Let's continue.
There have been many changes throughout
the time we've been at Elkin. The biggest change
was moving into the new school. It was very hard
for the faculty and pupils to adjust, but after
awhile the atmosphere became comfortable to work in.
Mr. Benson found out that he could hollar at four
classes at one time. This made him extremely happy.
I'm surprised I didn't end my speech by saying,
"Try the veal, I'll be here all week."
I don't remember hearing the audience laugh,
but I do distinctly remember watching
the audience laugh. When I play the moment back
in my mind, it all happens in slow motion. I see
the bald heads turning red. I see the smiling people
turning to look at each other. I see the blank
expressions on the faces of my fellow classmates.
(To this day, I hate playing to students. They
never seem to get me.)
I can't even begin to imagine what my mother
must have been thinking. Especially since she
no doubt secretly read my diary and knew that I
thought all these people were jerk-offs.
Three years later, at my ninth grade graduation,
I made a much more serious speech. (I told you I
was a precocious over-achiever.) It was 1980.
But, it is not enough to have only leaders
of this quality, for the elector must be as strong
as the elected. And so, to be part of America
and to contribute my part to its growth, I know
that the next ten years will be a challenge, and
that I will constantly have to make decisions on
my lifestyle, values, principles, and even my
interactions with my friends. I will have to accept
the position of pro or con on major issues. I
will have to vocalize my feelings on issues that
are of a specific concern to me. For as the '80's
reach maturity, so must I. As the years pass,
so must my innocence and ignorance. For the next
10 years with my maturity achieved I must surrender
my neutrality. I will become a member of
the decade of decision.
Five years later, I dropped out of college
and became a standup comic. Talk about surrendering
your neutrality-- whatever the hell that means.
Try the veal. I'll be here all week.
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