I was finally free. No more Student Council meetings for me. I was through with all of that nonsense. It was amazing once I announced to President Big G that I was done with his stupid organization how liberated I felt. The proverbial weight was lifted from my skinny shoulders. It was a long time coming.
2 months after my permanent exit from Council the caretakers’ strike ended after 7 long, dreary months. It was announced around the middle of March 1993 that the ill-timed dispute was finally resolved. As I wrote previously, the caretakers had to settle for less than what they fought for. I wonder if they regretted unwittingly creating the atmosphere of loathing that they did during their time off the job. Their absense made a lot of us feel gloomy and just a tad punchy. Surely, it all could’ve been handled a lot better.
I was so disgusted with the Executives that I didn’t want to associate with them in any way unless I absolutely had to. (You couldn’t boycott your classes if they were your classmates. I did want to graduate, after all.) Tara, one of the secretaries who hated me (and the feeling was mutual, and still is), asked me if I was writing for the final issue of OMNIA that year, the 1993 year-end Grad issue that she was responsible for putting together. (She was the editor.) She asked me this while I was walking down the hallway. As soon as she posed the question, I told her, in no uncertain terms, that I was never writing for it ever again. As a few of my friends watched with more than a little amazement, I’m sure, I briskly walked past Tara absolutely infuriated that she would think I would want to be in the magazine any longer after what they did to me in the previous issue. I loved writing and was slowly finding my voice as a writer, but I was in no mood to contribute anything to OMNIA. In retrospect, perhaps I should’ve written about my year in hell. But, then again, I was not yet ready to dig deep and shovel my emotions onto a blank page. I didn’t feel like contributing anything and I don’t regret what I did. For once, I stood up for myself.
There was an undeniable difference about the way I was treated after I resigned. When I was President, many people went out of their way to say hello and make direct eye contact with me, especially the transparent asskissers on Council. After I was demoted to an "honourary" position, a lot of those same people avoided me like the plague. No greetings. No eye contact. They just passed me by without so much as a glance. I felt like manure. On the upside, my friends stuck by me and I will always appreciate that, and I remember there were a few grade 9 students who cheered me up one time by acknowledging me when they were walking past me in the hallway. I smiled at the recognition. A rare occurence.
Throughout the year, there were two things that kept me going: music and the movies. I listened to U2’s Achtung Baby tape every day for months. Its bleak emotional soundscapes and stirring lyrical content matched how I was feeling. It’s hard for me to disassociate the feelings I had during that school year whenever I listen to any of the songs on that album. It brings back painful memories and yet I love the album dearly. I also listened to movie soundtracks like Grand Canyon, Total Recall, Dances With Wolves and Star Trek VI. Every one of those tapes provided a safe haven for my emotional well-being.
And then, there were the movies. Incredibly, none of the screenings I attended at multiplexes within the city were affected by my Student Council problems. I was able to let go and learn to be a better movie critic. When I wasn’t in a movie theatre, I was renting something on tape. I saw great pictures like Malcolm X and A River Runs Through It (one of the Student Council Faculty Advisors also loved that film). I also saw a lot of crap like The Mighty Ducks and Dr. Giggles, but I made it a point to see everything. I want to have opinions and I don’t want to be left out of any pop culture discussion.
Despite boycotting OMNIA, I never gave up doing morning announcements for Delta’s Radio Broadcasting System (D.R.B.S.). Originally, like everybody else, I did this task one day a week. You’d begin by asking everyone to stand for O Canada and then, you’d play a really crappy tape version of the song. Sometimes, Heather, the hot Student Council VP, would actually sing live over the P.A., which was most impressive when you see how she accomplished this.
The P.A. microphone (really, just a tiny speaker) is connected to this table which is the size of two computer tabletops. You held this "all call" button that allowed you to be heard in every classroom and hallway. (For private transmissions you just used a specific room number button.) It was like a light switch, in a way. And you had to lean over as close as you could to the mic so you could be heard. (It doesn’t sound very comfortable, does it? The longer the broadcast, the more uncomfortable your index finger on your left hand felt.)
Anyway, Heather couldn’t sing like that. So, when I was doing the announcements that day, she asked me to hold the mic button down and she would, I swear to God, kneel down and get real close to the mic and masterfully sing our anthem. It was truly something to see. (I believe she’s still singing today. A Google search revealed that she sings for some choir in Toronto. Good for her. She has talent in that department.)
Afterwards, you’d read all these announcements that were handed in. Sometimes, there was a guest speaker. I’ll never get over how the white-haired, personable Murray Kilby (who I interviewed for OMNIA back in 1989) would just talk to the students over the P.A. without any handwritten notes. He rarely missed a beat. He was fantastic. (As an aside, when I was President, we were supposed to have weekly progress meetings during the year but I only remember having one and it was short, unmemorable and unproductive. Again, shyness and lack of confidence got in the way of what could’ve been some very helpful private sessions.)
All through the school year I stuck with the D.R.B.S. gig as I had done since Grade 9 but after stepping away from the Presidency I noticed that I was given more responsibility, which I loved. Also noticeable were the gradually increasing absenses. There were supposed to be different people doing the morning announcements everyday but often, people didn’t show up. I was asked by Mrs. Bray (the Grade 11 Advanced English teacher who didn’t think I would be elected President who was also the faculty advisor for D.R.B.S. as well as OMNIA) to show up early in the office (where the brief broadcasts took place) to make sure somebody did the announcements. First, I went from doing it once a week to twice a week. Then, three times. As the final months of the school year dragged on, I averaged between 2 to 4 D.R.B.S. morning broadcasts a week.
I got tons of compliments from teachers and others. It was fantastic. I left the stink of my Presidency behind for good. It was really nice to bounce back after having my self-esteem rocked out of its flimsy foundation. It saved me big time and I have to thank Mrs. Bray for giving me the encouragement to become, essentially, the D.R.B.S. morning news director. I was damn good. It gave me a lot of good experience as an amateur broadcaster.
The Student Council was able to do a few things in 1993. There was a Valentine’s Day dance, a second round of Air Head, Spirit Week and another Air Band competition. But ultimately, without the full support of the student body, it was hard to plan activities. Only the G.A.C. (the Girls Athletic Council) were able to make things happen. For instance, they had a very successful Christmas Bingo in 1992. (No old blue-haired ladies were in attendance, surprisingly.)
I concentrated mainly on my future. I had applied to Mohawk College in late 1992 and would receive word of my acceptance or rejection in the summer of 1993. My percentages started to slip a little around March and my parents imposed a no-movie rule for a month until they improved. But by April, I was back at the cinema full-time, my second home for much of my teen years.
OMNIA’s 1993 Grad Issue came out (an imitation Ren & Stimpy drawing was on the cover) in either May or June. Big G talked about the school year from the perspective of the Student Council in his "President’s Report". Writing in the almost-all-spin-zone, even he had to acknowledge that not everything was bad about my Presidency.
"On a positive note, we had some cool activities," he wrote. "The Grade 9 Orientation week in September was very successful." Puzzlingly, he never acknowledged that I was the President who helped organize those activities. (Would it kill ya to send a thank you my way, Big G? I didn’t screw up everything, you know?)
For once, there were no snide remarks. He acknowledged in an uncharacteristically diplomatic manner the difficulties the Council faced during the school year: "the strike, lack of spirit, leadership and dances." He even offered support for the incoming President next year (who, I would later find out from Shane, who stayed on another year as Treasurer, had a truly nasty temper that exploded once during a meeting).
The Graduation ceremonies ended the dismal school year in late June. Heather, the hot VP, won the Student Council award, voted on by the surviving members of the General Council. She probably should’ve been the President. (When my never-ending cold got really bad one week, I had to ask her to chair a couple of meetings. She did very well, making me look like the clueless amateur I was.) No one worked as hard as she did during that school year. She saved my ass on more than one occasion. One wonders how she would’ve found time to put together a yearbook, had enough students supported making that happen. But I’m sure that wouldn’t have been a problem for her. She was amazing juggling school, friendships, a boyfriend, sports, singing and being Vice President of the Student Council. I really should’ve confided in her more.
After Graduation, most of the alumni went their separate ways. A lot of us continued our education at the university and college levels while others went right into the workforce. I encountered Big G from time to time at Mohawk. (I was in TV, he took radio.) I mostly glared at him and avoided conversations with him as much as possible. It was very awkward because we both have a mutual friend and I’m sure he felt odd being in the middle of this cold war. I think he wanted to put everything behind him but I was still seething and to this day, I don’t want anything to do with him. My strongest memory of Big G in College was seeing him snooze all the time in the campus radio station’s music library. Being a colossal boob is exhausting, you know?
My final year at Delta Secondary school (1992-3) was distinctive and bloody and alternately a failure and a success (I sucked as President but graduated with decent marks and was a great morning news director.). When it was over, I was thoroughly exhausted both mentally and physically. The year was a vampire that drained me completely. That summer was the first summer in two years that I looked forward to without any sense of dread.
I have always wanted to write about this important period in my life. You have to remember I was elected Student Council President when I was only 17 years old. Just a few days before the election I had my first proper date. When I started my term, I was 18. This was my first foray into adulthood and I was so overwhelmed by the unrelenting onslaught that it’s no wonder I went through such a terrible depression. Being a writer, I wanted to document everything that happened to me and preserve it so that someday in the future I could look back and remember when I got too old to remember it on my own. I think I also did it to truly examine how I behaved that year. I still feel I was a really bad President but in retrospect, who could’ve been good during a super-long strike? (I should mention that during my final President’s Council meeting, the monthly get-together with all the high school leaders, several Presidents told the Faculty Advisor ("the drama fag") that they were on the verge of quitting and he addressed this during the meeting. I didn’t feel so alone when I learned that. I don’t remember if I told him how bad things were at Delta. Maybe I didn’t have to.)
I’m glad I waited 14 years to do this because I have a clearer perspective of everything that happened. And I’m a better writer in 2006. It’s amazing how much I remember about that time, even specific things people said. My mom is right. I am a sponge.
When I started writing about this I had no idea how much ground I would actually cover. After the first installment I realized that breaking up the story into more digestible chunks was the best way to go. Soon, I realized that I had something of a serial happening and it’s been great fun reliving the good and bad of that final year of high school. It’s very liberating getting this all down now and that was what I was hoping for. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I feel an intense need to be more personal on my site and there’s nothing more personal than talking about an intimate failure like this. I feel I’ve made a personal breakthrough and I hope to continue.
After what I went through, I have a new and profound respect for leaders of all stripes, even the bad ones. It takes balls to want to do something like this, even at the student level, and I realized the hard way not everybody can do this. Truly, it is not as easy as it looks. Try running anything during a 7-month long strike. Only the truly great excel in a crisis.
I wanted to be Student Council President so I could emulate my hero, Wade Perniac. All I wanted to do was microphone work like leading pep rallies, making speeches and being funny. During that memorably awful school year, we had no pep rallies. Not one. (As an aside, I received a lot of criticism for not attending any of Delta’s high school football games. I never went before I was elected because I didn’t care and there were usually fights in the stands at every game. I don’t regret that decision.)
Truth be told, we didn’t even have our official Inauguration Ceremony. This is where all the elected and acclamated members of the Council officially become members of the Student Council. It was scrapped because of the strike. I was really pissed because I was really looking forward to doing a good speech. I’m great at that shit. (I still get compliments for performing the eulogy for my grandfather’s funeral in 2000.)
We didn’t even have our photos taken for the Student Council picture frame, not to mention the yearbook. If you’re ever in Delta there are these frames of all the Student Councils from years past. One is missing. That would be our year. (Unless, of course, things have changed since I’ve been there. I seriously doubt that and I don’t care to find out.)
I was told at the time that because of my disastrous reign as President, a new rule was to be implemented about future elections. A student had to be elected Vice-President before running for President. But I don’t remember the President that followed myself and Big G ever being on the Council during our final school year. (Big G and sexy Heather were our VPs, of course.) Anyway, I’m sure that’s all been straightened out and my experience has not been repeated.
All through this series, I’ve talked about how being President changed me, and not for the better. I’ll explain this further in an upcoming piece I’m preparing about the years after my College graduation but for now, I will say this. Feebly running the Student Council of Delta shattered my normally unflappable confidence. I was a very driven kid who wanted to do all kinds of stuff and this story certainly reflects that. But in the years since then, I’ve become more and more isolated from the outside world. Ok, I’m not Howard Hughes but I do suffer from OCD which has been reduced, for the most part, to a mild annoyance. (I still have a long way to go to finally beat it, though. And no, I’m not agoraphobic. I’m just a homebody who needs a kick in the ass to get busy living again.)
I remain in the same house I lived in when I attended high school. With my parents. I’ve lost contact with almost all of my friends. I haven’t had a full-time job in 5 years. And here’s something truly embarrassing: I lost my virginity when I was 29. Yeah, I’ve got problems. I know.
The point is that my life can be divided into two eras: before I became President and after. Before I was elected, I had confidence, friends, drive and a little OCD. And after? The complete opposite. But now, having spent several consecutive days dealing with old wounds that, for the most part, have healed, I’m ready to get back on track. (True, reliving the old stories does bring back those old emotions, as The Spoons once sang, but I’m surprised that a lot of the bitterness and anger has subsided. In fact, I’m able to laugh about this and even smile. Just think, if none of this had happened to me, I wouldn’t have had an interesting story to tell.)
Let me end on a light note with this Presidential memory. When I was still the leader of the Student Council I had Grade 12 Drama. One time, we had to do a solo character performance but I was stuck. When my mom suggested I play a female film critic I thought it was a great idea. I wrote barely an outline of what I wanted to do and mostly improvised the bit. It went over really well. I got high marks from Mr. Micallef.
During that class, I was summoned into the office. Keep in mind I’m in costume. I’m wearing a dress and clip-on earrings. I look ridiculous. So, I go in and there’s a phone call for me. It’s a reporter with the Hamilton Spectator. They’re doing a story on condom machines being installed in high schools across the city. So, the guy starts off asking what my position is. I reply that I’m for it. (Still am, by the way.) Then, this creepy little perv (I don’t even remember his name now) asks me if any of my friends are sexually active. (Hand to God.) I behaved like a politician and tried to change the subject without directly answering the question. (In retrospect, I should’ve ripped him a new one for being so nosey. I might’ve gotten in the paper. As an aside, there was no mention of our conversation in the published piece.)
Then he asks me if I know of anybody in the school who’s getting freaky and I declined to answer that ridiculous question. (How the hell would I know?) I sounded like a robot giving the same line over and over again about how there are more important issues than this, blah blah blah. He thanked me for my time and I was off the phone. After Drama class was over, I didn’t have time to change into my normal, more manly attire. So, there I am, walking through the second floor hallway, the President of the Student Council, dressed as the skinniest, hairy-legged female in the school’s history. Oh, you can just picture the mixture of puzzled looks and muffled guffaws I got, can’t you?
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, May 24, 2006