"To Hell With the Beatles" postcard
THE BEATLES TRIED to force me into a regular adolescence, but I did not want one. In some part of my soul I had decided to skip the transitional stage to adulthood. At the age of 11, I was one of those characters that grown-ups refer to with great satisfaction as “young man.” I wore glasses with dense, dark frames and I sported a brush-cut (if it is in fact possible to “sport” a brush-cut). I wore white shirts, rolled down at the cuffs and well secured: I often buttoned them to the neck. My belt was always buckled to the tightest possible notch, then sometimes, heroically, on to the next. I lobbied for and eventually got a ring with a black onyx stone to wear on my left hand. I looked like a junior version of a mid-leveler at IBM or NASA. I loved my middle name, Wright: which suggested that I was always correct, always accurate, forever on the money and possessing the exact change. I carried a brief case.
I was enrolled in something called — with a hubris almost too grand to be believed — the Major Work Class. We Major Workers had been recruited from all over the city to fill a 25 person classroom where we, aged 11, with a few precocious tenners thrown in — were to engage in (what else?) Major Work. Some of us no doubt did. By the end of the year the capriciously dressed, not always scrupulously washed tenner named Vickie was onto the early stages of calculus, slamming along in her private workbooks.
We gave performances called Morning Talks, which were modeled on the briefings that State Department types delivered, but were based on topics of our own choosing. I did mine on the battle of Guadalcanal. I referred to multiple maps. If memory serves I flourished a pointer borrowed from the teacher. I also constructed a model of a Japanese military camp, based on nothing but what I imagined a Japanese military camp ought to look like. The talks were supposed to be 20 minutes: mine broke the one-hour barrier and had plenty of momentum left. It’s possible that when it all ended (lunch?) I tried to take the pointer home with me.
The school we attended was two or three miles from my house and I took the bus there in the morning, but often chose to walk all the way home to burn off steam. My briefcase was always so full that as I walked the handle straps whimpered in soft despair. On the way home one afternoon I ran into a buddy who had himself been invited to go Major Work, but had declined. His name was Andy, and he had an insubordinate streak. The year before, we had been assigned to make safety posters to illustrate this worldly danger or that. Some kids made signs advising others not to step into the ditch the gas company was digging, or to refrain from tanking down a bottle of mom’s bleach all at once. Andy drew a picture of a jet liner landing on the runway at Boston’s airport, Logan. Beneath the wheels of the incoming plane a small personage was being reduced to blood and guts and general glop. It was a remarkably graphic piece of work.“Here’s a Safety Slogan: Stay Away from Logan!” its legend read. The teacher went orange: she looked like a burning bush. Then she did one of those around-the-room teacher whooping dances that adults never get to see. Andy had sucked the high seriousness out of the safety poster game. He’d made a mockery of civics and duty. Yet he had been tapped for Major Work.
He asked how I liked MWC, which is what we initiates called it...read more