In the mid 1960′s without my realizing it, the world was on the cusp of change. It still retained a small vestige of what I loved; an eccentricity, an occasional provincialism and most of all a sense of elegance.
John Kennedy spoke with a patrician, Boston accent. Carey Grant was running through wheat fields in beautifully tailored suits, and Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn oozed charm, grace and romance. It seemed to me that they were not the creators of the lifestyle, but rather the reflection of what life was meant to be. The world truly seemed filled with optimism.
In the mid 1960′s I was in boarding school, and although it was a difficult time for me, it was also a time of great fun and good humor.
In my junior year of school, I remember taking Algebra II from a retired Colonel (probably from the Salvation Army) who demanded all his students refer to him as Colonel Evans. He was a heavy-set, squat sort of man who wore wire-rimmed glasses and stood very erect with the help of platform shoes. On a good day he was probably a good five feet, five inches, but his officiousness and mannerisms knew no bounds.
The school I attended was right out of 18th century England, all stone, and with classrooms that one had to walk down two steps to get into. I guess the classroom could almost feel like a dungeon except for all the clamor and laughter of twenty boys who were always into mischief.
Algebra II was the first class in the morning and as almost everyone was at least half asleep or totally disinterested in math, the Colonel had placed numerous clocks perfectly synchronized around the classroom to tick away all the moments of boredom.
As we slowly approached the end of class with everyone desperate to escape the four walls of the apocalypse, he would look at his watch dutifully and proclaim, “By my watch, class is dismissed.” All at once everyone would get up and run for the door. Just as the first student would get to the exit, the master clock, ringing throughout the school to alert everyone of the change of class, would go off.
The Colonel thought this was hysterical. He had timed it perfectly. Every clock in the room was perfectly adjusted. Three seconds before the end of class he had dismissed us. He was a master of precision, a Colonel to our buck privates, a master to his slaves. He would laugh mightily to himself, proud that he could be so punctilious.
This trick happened week after week, and all of his stupid boys (including myself) would fall for this trick over and over again. The more we would run for the door only to be met by the general dismissal, the funnier he thought it was.
The idea of escaping this boredom early was just too great a temptation, but slowly revenge was brewing in the devious minds of these adolescent juniors. To be tricked once was o.k. but to fall for it over and over again was unthinkable.
So it was to be, near the end of the semester, before Thanksgiving break, four boys and a hose who were never discovered) struck once. It happened late at night while the campus was asleep, only to be found out by a large group of us going to class the next morning.
As we all generally arrived at class together, coming from breakfast, we opened the door to the classroom and found that the entire classroom had been flooded. As the classroom was down about two steps, these boys had flooded the room with considerably more than a foot of water. All the wooden desks were floating freely around the classroom with papers floating freely around the water. Everything was in complete disarray.
When the Colonel saw the state of his classroom he went apoplectic. His face turned bright red and he started to scream for revenge. Ultimately the classroom was emptied and nothing that I am aware of happened, except a great laugh for many nights.
This was a small part of my life. I had gone to school with extremely privileged boys who had no fear of growing into eccentrics. They didn’t conform because they didn’t have too. Unfortunately for the most part they became as banal and uninteresting, “as the mass of men who live lives of quiet desperation.” But then there were the very few who struggled their way into being truly original.
By my watch it is time for all good things to start again, for beauty to replace importance, grace and style to replace fashion, and finally to once again to hear originality in one’s voice.