Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the best of times, the worst of times

Every once in a while I remember an incident from high school and it's just a -- curious little memory, funny (to me) and it really serves as a unique meditation on leadership, I think.

It must have occurred during my sophomore year, or else my junior year in high school.  It couldn't have been freshman year because I didn't go anywhere with the other kids that year, except for the spring show at school, where we performed sketches from popular musicals:

"Doe, a deer, a female deer,
Ray -- a drop of golden gun..."


"Summertime --
And the livin' is easy...
Fish are jumpin'..."


"Automobile in America,
Chromium steel in America,
Wire-spoke wheel in America,
Very big deal in Ah - mer -- IC - ah!"


"Well if so, my friends,
ya got trouble.
Right here in River City...!"

_________________ The thing students in my high school did for fun and socialization in their free time (unmonitored by adults) was have beer parties.

That might not sound very good, in today's era, post-drunk-driving-obsession/crusade (M.A.D.D., S.A.D.D., B.A.D.D., HAD-IT, whatever...) but that's what the kids did, back then.  I don't know why.  I didn't initiate the "policy."

But they would gather someplace -- someone's house when their parents were gone, or out in a field, when the weather was warm.  And just -- have some beer.  And hang out.  That was the main point of it, really -- the hanging out.

Sometimes the beer was three-two; sometimes it was "high-point."

The thing was being together, and being "grown-up."  No one said that, but that's what it was. 

We were trying to live the life of the grown-ups.  To copy them, but yet at the same time, trying to be ourselves.  Our future selves.  How we planned to be, once we were in charge of ourselves.  And the beer wasn't the point, I guess, it was a symbol of our declaration of independence -- doing something our parents wouldn't have said we could do.

And this one Saturday night, I was at a party at someone's house out in the country -- all these high school students just pressed into this place, filling up the kitchen, dining-room, and living room -- putting on the TV, making frozen pizzas and other snacks, everyone having beer from cans (Miller?), and a group around the dining-room table, playing cards.

It was cold out, snow on the ground.  All these cars were parked up and down the driveway, and along the edge of the big turn-around space.

And Mr. and Mrs. A. were not expected home (that's WHY the party was THERE...!) but -- they came home!  Headlights outside lighting up the dark, then -- worse -- their headlights were turned OFF, and their next stop was going to be in our party, in their house, and of course we're "under-age"...Holy Toledo)

There was hasty stashing of beer cans, I think, and hushed scurrying and loud scared whispers -- but there was no time for actual kids to hide, or better yet Get The Heck Out.  Too late too late.

I wasn't too scared, but it was a little nerve-racking.  Mr. & Mrs. A. came in:  they didn't start yelling and they didn't look too upset, but yet, not pleased -- perplexed, maybe -- and I think all of us teen-agers just kind of tried to look innocent but everyone was nervous, and Mr. and Mrs. A. just sort of filled up the doorway, and seemed bigger than they were, to us, because we were nervous and guilty.  ("Shit!")

And then --

And then.

And then -- the unexpected.

I mean, no one knew what was next -- including Mr. and Mrs. A., probably, and what happened was, this guy who was one year ahead of me in high school stood up from the card game, greeted the "A"s ("welcome to -- "-- what?  YOUR house??  Welcome to your home??  So nice to have us? -- I mean YOU...??)

I don't remember exactly what he said, but this student took the entire situation well in hand before anyone knew what would be next -- he greeted these people (made them welcome in their own home, lol) and then started introducing each person at the party.  (!)  No hiding.  No runnin' out the back door and gunning motors to speed "back to town."  No downcast eyes or shuffling feet, no time -- this kid, David, just "caught the ball" and started "dribbling" ...

He made it like a grown-up sophisticated cocktail party, or a political candidate's meet-and-greet...introducing each student by first-and-last name...at first, I think I didn't know what in the world he was doing, but then I saw how his low-key introductory pleasantries smoothed the whole thing over, dissolved the tension.  And I had a sense of the genius of his tactic, and his cool presence of mind to think of it so fast, & execute it with so much ease and naturalness.

Introducing each high-schooler by first and last name, when he got to me, he said, "And this is ____________  ____________, our minister's daughter," which was followed by some barely subdued scuffling merriment among the other party-goers.  It seemed outrageous, or something...the other kids liked that. ...

Overall I was just so incredibly impressed by David's smart tactic for how to handle the situation, & that he thought of it so fast.  It blew me away.  Like a fast car -- like it drove by you, but you didn't know what it was because it went too fast and disappeared.

Presiding over the crisis which became Not-a-crisis, David was mature, charming, urbane.  He took the lead and took care of business.

No trouble resulted ...what happened next?  Everyone just went home, I guess.

I thought David's problem-management was impressive at the time, and now, with layers of life experience and perspective influencing how I look at it, I find it even more impressive.


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