As my knees buckled, and my body careened to the hard cement at the top of the steps, I could hear the kid next to me saying, “Don’t lock your knees.” How do you stand for hours in the hot sun and not do that? As I lay crumpled on the scorching June concrete, I heard the kid say to the adult rushing to my pathetic rescue: “He locked his knees.”
It had been an intense week, and all I remember about the photo I standing for before losing consciousness was the irritation in my dad’s voice when saw it months later, saying, “why are you always standing apart from the others?”
Well, I was about to pass out, actually.
It didn’t bother me. I was an outsider–an observing visitor–during those years. I was waiting for my real life to begin after high school just one year away. In the meantime, I did my best.
It was the summer of my seventeenth birthday, and no one was more surprised than I was to hear I was chosen as an alternate to attend Hoosier Boys’ State…considering I had no idea what it was or how I’d been nominated. (You couldn’t just “google” it in those days.) My parents were proud of me, and considered it to quite an honor. But I’m pretty sure they had no idea what it was either.
Luckily, being an alternate meant I didn’t ever have to find out, but would consider using it on college applications, if necessary. “Excuse me, but I was an alternate for Hoosier Boys’ State. Thank you.” However, I was soon notified that one of the “primaries” wouldn’t be able meet his obligation, and I would be able to attend in his place.
I had no idea what I was in for, but what I did know was that I was getting out of my tiny hometown for a week. It was an exciting prospect! Maybe I could change the part in my hair, speak with a Scottish brogue and go by “Scotty.” All possibilities were available, it seemed.
Hoosier Boys’ State was a seven-day session held at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, a city several hours south. (It’s also the city where orphaned Sissy, Buffy and Jodie were from on the 60’s TV show “Family Affair” before they went to live with Brian Keith’s Uncle Bill in New York City.) What sealed my excitement about going…no matter what…was that since neither of my parents were able to drive me, I was entrusted with my mom’s Buick to drive down on my own. It was by far the most exciting proposition that had ever come my way: complete freedom and independence with a car, a hundred miles from home. Whatever else was entailed didn’t really matter much to me. It would be worth it!
Hoosier Boys’ State was a mock state government. We were divided into two parties: federalists and nationalists. Each party established it’s own platform which was voted on by its members. We had campaigns, debates, and voting from precinct committeeman up to mayors of the cities, and ultimately governor of our (boys’) state.
And I was interested in none of it.
Politics still has a hard time holding my interest. More importantly, there was far too much social interaction required for politics. I was an acne-faced, insecure misfit with no desire to risk ridicule by running for a public office–in stark contrast to all of the good-looking, smooth-talking, sports-minded boys who were in attendance. However, there was another, ideal option for me: the fourth estate. I was editor-in-chief of my small town high school newspaper. And, even then, writing was a “go to” for me. I wouldn’t run in any of the elections, I’d cover them as part of the press! The social interaction of an interview was easy because the subject just talked about himself. Even better, I would be excused from all the required athletic and social activities! “Sorry, I have newspaper work to do. Thank you.”
Those of us who decided to apply for a position on the newspaper gathered in a room, and depending upon what position we wanted, had to stand up (they were gonna get me talking one way or the other), talk about our experience and why we would be good at that specific role we’d selected. I still marvel at my young self getting up and giving my spiel on why I’d make a good editor (I was shooting for the mood and going for editor-in-chief), based on my experience from writing to editing to paste-up. There were guys there from much bigger schools with far more resources that were truly impressive. I figured I’d get assigned to report on one of the election campaigns.
The sponsor posted the assignments later that same day.
I don’t remember much about the schedule for the week. Because I wasn’t a reporter or running for office, I was exempt. “Excuse me, I’m a Production Editor. Thank you.” My job happened after all the stories were submitted, editing them and preparing them for paste up.
I spent a lot of time with the other production editor, Jeff, and a kid named Chris who was one of the paste-up artists. We hung out for hours at the Hardee’s just off campus, talking about “Star Trek” movies of the day, and generally avoiding interaction with the others. We didn’t really fit in with the blood-thirsty, go-getters fighting for a state office. I was grateful (and, in retrospect, proud) that I’d managed to find a little tribe of my own kind of people, if even for a week.
Boys’ State is sponsored by the American Legion. So, it was what I would term a “para-military” situation. We had to get up at something like 5 or 6 a.m. for reveille, eat breakfast within 30 minutes, then spend the first two hours of the day (it seemed) marching in formation on the football field. In June. In Indiana. Oh, and in jeans. NO SHORTS ALLOWED!
Hence, passing out.
Our last official day was a Friday. It was the last day we produced a paper. Saturday morning there was no reveille–just a breakfast followed by an official assembly and dismissal. By 5 a.m. that morning–long before breakfast was served–all of me left at Boys’ State was a puff of smoke and the sound of a car screeching out of the parking lot northward!
That week had been the longest I’d ever spent away from home on my own, and was important in that regard. It was a big challenge in terms of getting out of my shell and interacting with others–something that has never…er…still doesn’t…come easily to me. But I’d done it. As me. No brogue, no fun fake nickname, no false personality traits. Just a shy, skinny, uncertain introvert who had made it through the week in a strange place and figured out a few things.
Oh, and he passed out in public, too.