The Debate

The Debate

A Story by M Baker
"

My homage to the teen/young adult comedy. Here's to all the stoners, teachers' pets, jocks, and bitter professors everywhere.

"

Every morning sleep was interrupted in the same manner.  The opening barrage from the army of awakening came from the intruding light which seeped through the closed window blinds.  The sunlight worked together well with the relentless beeps echoing from the alarm clock on the nightstand.  These two"the focused rays and garish noise"worked in tandem, but they did not work alone.  All of his senses came under heavy attack every morning around seven o’clock.  First there were the assaults on his eyes and ears.  Next, the chemical warfare against his sense of smell was on:  downstairs freshly brewed coffee and frying bacon.  The scents slowly crept up the steps, under the crack of the bedroom door, and into his nostrils.  He wanted to desperately taste those things cooking in the kitchen below, but all he could taste in that moment between sleep and awake was the awful staleness of morning breath.  As his eyes began to open, he felt the sharp stinging of the sunlight which only accentuated the headache he was suffering from the prior night’s vices.       

            Ethan flipped the crumpled mass of blankets off his prone body, swung his legs to the side, and planted his feet on the scratchy beige carpeting.  Now came the search for the day’s attire.  He believed something so trivial shouldn’t be such a vexing task.  Yet everyday he stood in front of his closet, double-doors swung open, and stared at his wardrobe.  There was no doubt about the bottom half of his body.  It would be covered worn-out sandals, boxer briefs, and wrinkled cargo short.  Those facts never changed.  The top half of Ethan’s body was another story.  What shirt should he go with today?  What message did he wish to send?  Something in the back of his mind told him that he needed to dress appropriately for today, but the clouded haze inside didn’t indicate as to why.  In this day and age clothing sent messages.  In the case of Ethan’s closet, its contents were categorized by those messages.  The shirts farthest to the left were sporty, casual, workout clothes.  He never wore those in public.  He thought the message these sent bordered on self-adulation for being even remotely physically fit.  In the center of the closet hung the polo shirts, button-downs, and fitted tees.  These items tended toward the more preppy.  The message they sent was one a pitiful one.  They screamed a need to be accepted by others, to conform.  On the far right hand side of the closet hung the trendy garments:  shirts embroidered with his favorite bands, political figures, and other such novelties.   This was the don’t-f**k-with-me wing of the closet.  They made him out to be more attached to some ideal than he actually was.

            Even though he avoided everyday with the same sense of dread, today still seemed especially foreboding.  He shuffled across the room to the window which still bled yellow phosphorescence.  With the tip of his finger, Ethan separated two blinds and looked out to the scene in front of the Adler house.  An overnight rain was apparent from the darkened, olive shade on the normally white sidewalk.  The low-lying clouds tried desperately to avoid being destroyed by the incoming sun.  Ethan wished he could be one of those clouds"separate and aloft from the living world.

 

Driving in his hand-me-down ’01 Ford Focus, with its marred passenger door from an incident with a tree, Ethan sped out of the pristine environs of suburbia toward Atlas Road.  Glancing at the homes, with their identical white siding, faux window shudders, and harlequin Bermuda grass, Ethan thought about nothing.  His mind was usually an undeveloped Polaroid for the first few hours of the day.  He turned the dial up on his car stereo, which resonated The Smiths’ “Stretch Out and Wait.” 

            Outside the noisy car, the tranquil scenery of towering evergreens and flowering dogwoods whizzed by on both sides in a misty blur.  A cool steam rose from the pavement as the first rays of sun reached the surface.  Ethan was rolling his head from left to right to the sound of the music and half singing along.  He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and noticed he hadn’t shaved in a few days.  Some men are able to grow rugged, shadowy stubble that accentuates their looks.  Ethan’s was, however, not that kind.  His was more scattered, with some areas fuller than others.  It was not a good look, he thought.  He slid his palm across his cheek and down to his chin to feel if indeed the stubble was as thick as it appeared in the mirror.  It was.  A grimace of disappointment appeared on his face then soon vanished as focused back onto the road ahead. 

            “’So stretch out and wait.’” He was singing at a high pitch.  “’Stretch out and wait.  There is no debate, no debate, no debate.’” 

The lyrics bounced around inside his head for a moment then embedded themselves into the surface of his brain.  No debate.  No debate?  Today…today was April 29th.  The debate was today.  He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten.  What’s more, he couldn’t believe he’d ever agreed to do this.  What the hell was he thinking?  More importantly, what the hell was she thinking?  Was she nuts?  Why come to him to do this?  

  “Oh s**t!” he said.  “No, no, no.  S**t, s**t, s**t.”  He pounded his palms against the steering wheel and rolled his head back in disgust.  “Ahhhhh!  S**t!”    

His heart started beating rapidly and his palms became cold and clammy.  Just thinking about standing in front of all those people made it difficult for Ethan to swallow.  He thought maybe he should just turn around.  Go home.  Do everything he could to avoid having to go to that damn debate.  It was hopeless anyway, he thought.  It wasn’t like he stood a chance against Katy-f*****g-Clark.  The very thought being in front of a crowd made his hands quiver.  He needed something to calm him down.  Instinctively, he reached into his glove compartment and pulled out a black velvet bag.  He loosened its drawstring and produced a pipe and an orange pill-bottle filled with weed.  He packed the pipe with the sticky green buds and lifted it to his thin lips.  Keeping one hand on the wheel, he held the pipe in his mouth by tightening his lips around it.  He was searching his backpack for his cheap plastic lighter.  Once he found it, he brought the yellow flame to the pipe and inhaled deeply.  Immediately, he felt his heart’s pace lessen and blanket of warm fog washed over his mind.  Looking out the windshield, he thought about his place of solace.  He wished he could arise and go to this place void of humanity’s touch, where all that was heard were the chirrups of the crickets and lapping of lake waters hitting the stony shore.  He wished he could escape and live alone.

#

“So, the sanctions against the Botha government in South Africa were a political expression of the United States’ desire to see apartheid end,” Dr. Jane Calandor said on that morning six weeks earlier.  “We’ll pick up from here next time.  Be sure to read chapters six and seven before next week.  Have a good weekend everyone.”

            Just as the masses were about to depart, a hand shot up in the front of the room.  Katy Clark, with her slender, perfectly bronzed arm leading down to a vivacious body clad in a tight-fitting purple Delta Zeta t-shirt, was emphatically trying to get Jane’s attention. 

            “Oh, Dr. Calandor.  Remember my announcement?” Katy said.

            Everyone paused, some half standing. 

            “Oh, yes of course, Katy.  I almost forgot.  Umm, class, everyone, Katy has something she wanted to say,” Jane said.

            The buoyantly energetic blonde bounced out of her seat and up to the front of the classroom.  She positioned herself directly in front of Jane.  She cleared her throat and gave everyone a beaming smile.

            “Okay, so, I just wanted to say that I’m sure everyone knows I’m running for student body president this year.  I have a website up called KatyCforMC.com.  On there, you’ll find all sorts of important information about me and my vision for Monroe College.  It has a detailed history of my past positions held at Bolden High and links to some of my favorite charity organizations in the community.  I really hope everyone will go to the site, KatyCforMC.com, and check it out.  And keep me in mind when the voting begins later this semester.”  She grinned widely and was about to take her exit stage left.  “Oh, and there’s also a link to my Facebook page.  Feel free to friend me and leave me feedback.  I’d love to know what my fellow students’ thoughts are on how we can make Monroe a better place!  Thanks, guys!”

            Everyone restarted the process of gathering their things and leaving the classroom, like it was the last place on earth they wanted to be.  Jane stared at the back of Katy’s head and recognized it for what it was:  the head of a girl who never had to work for anything.  Jane loathed these girls.  She had worked her way through college and graduate school as a waitress and a library page.  She spent every extra dime she had on the necessities in life:  food, shelter, and books, always more books.  She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Illinois and got into the Ph.D. program at Michigan.  But when it came time to interview for highly sought after positions in Washington, the jobs always went to girls like Katy.  They were the ones whose resumes were beefed up from not having to work all the time.  They were the ones who could join every club and run for every student office, and that got them a foot in the door before capable people like Jane.  Katy Clark, just another example of suburban mediocrity being rewarded for her good looks, charm, and parents’ money.

            “Thanks, Katy.  That sounds…useful.  I’m sure everyone is intrigued,” Jane said.  “Have a good weekend everyone.”

            The thirty plus students rose from their seats, in the theatre-style classroom, and began a mass exodus toward the doors.  Jane scanned the moving crowd for his face.  There, still standing at his center seat, stood Ethan.  She watched him as he waited for others to file out in front of him.  Each time he went to step into the row of people, someone else came before him.  He let his frustration show on his fine chiseled face.  He furrowed the thin brows above his deep brown eyes.  Finally, he seized the opportunity to step out onto the stairs and started down toward the door.    

            “Ethan, can I talk to you for a second?”  Jane asked from behind the portable, wooden podium.

She was a nervous to speak with him.  She never had before.  Ethan wasn’t the type to raise his hand in class or come to her office seeking advice.  He was so impenetrable.  Her heart was aflutter as he shuffled casually over toward her.  Some of the other students had paused to decipher what the impromptu meeting was all about.  She gave them a stern glare to indicate that it didn’t concern them, and they took off out the door.

“Uh,yeah?” Ethan said.

“So, you know, Ethan, you’ve missed quite a few classes as of late?”  She spoke in a methodical tone but not a judging one.

He lifted his hand to his forehead and slid away one of his medium-length raven locks with the tips of his spindly fingers.  Actually it was a godsend to her that he’d missed these classes.  It gave her an excuse actually open up lines of communication with him.  Frankly, she didn’t care much about students’ truancy, unless of course it was with regards to someone like Katy.  Then, Jane would be sure to start marking off points.  Of course, Katy never missed class though.  Jane listened to Ethan stumble through something about his grandmother dying, which she didn’t really buy nor care to.

“I understand and I’m sorry,” she said.  “But you should really let me know if you’re going to miss a lot of classes.  You know, email me or something.  I can make sure you get the notes for the day.”

 “Well, okay,” Ethan said.  “Was that, um, all you wanted?”

“Not exactly.”  She leaned forward onto the podium.  She made sure the motion accentuated the cleavage of her well-shaped chest.  Ethan seemed to notice it.  There was a gleam in his eye, a smoky haze, and she couldn’t help but notice he wouldn’t look her in the eye. 

“Tell me, Ethan; are you a member of any student organizations?”

“Me?  Uh, no,” he said impishly.

“Any reason why not?”

“I, uh, I don’t know.  They’re not really my kinda thing.”

“I see.”  She stood upright again and straightened her black Versace glasses with the tip of her finger.  “Have you ever tried it?”

“Well, no.”

“I think it might be something you’d enjoy.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.  Maybe.”  Ethan shifted awkwardly.  He tilted his head slightly upward revealing a tiny one-inch scar on his chin.  She wondered how he had gotten it.  He rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand.  Every movement seemed to highlight his sinewy build.  “What could I possibly join?  Student clubs are just resume builders anyways.”

“True they help you build a solid profile for future employers, but have you ever given student government a thought?”

He shook his head.

“It’s just that you’re a political science major.”  She started loading her satchel again to make herself not look overly interested.  “I know you’re politically conscious.”

“Politically conscious?”

            “Your paper on the Rwandan genocide was excellent.  No one who writes like that can be completely disinterested.”

            “Uh, th-thanks, but I’m not sure I care all that much about student government.  I mean, in my mind, there’s a difference between the mass slaughter of one million innocent men, women, and children and the choice of which crappy, washed-up ‘90s rock band will play at the spring concert.”

He was perfect.  Jane knew that out of all the young men walking in and out her of life every day, she’d picked the right one.  She’d be his Aphrodite, if he’d let her.  She finished loading her bag, picked up with ease, and slung it over her shoulder.  “Come on.  Walk with me.”

            Out in the hallway they coaxed their way past aimless students and the occasional sulking professor.  Jane walked like a woman with a determination.  She looked at none of the people who almost got in her way.  She slowed down slightly when she realized Ethan was three or four steps behind her.

            “I think you should run for student body president,” she said.

            Ethan bumped into a burly guy’s shoulder as he tried to catch up to Jane. “Wha"what me?  Why?”

            “Because it’ll do you good to get involved with something.  Maybe if you were you’d take coming to class more seriously.”

            “I don’t know about that.  Besides, Katy Clark’s got the thing in the bag.  She was student body president at our high school.  God knows she wins everything.”

            “I know,” Jane said with a slight disgust.  “She sure is ambitious, but the challenge will be good for her.  She can take care of herself.”

She stopped at her office door and turned to look at him.  He nearly ran into her, and this caused her to give a knowing smile.

“Look.  I can help you.  If it’s something you’d like to do.  I’ll help you.  Just think about it.  Let me know on Monday.”  She was leaning against the doorframe.  She tapped her fingers a couple times and said:  “I’d invite you in, but the office is a disaster.  Just think about it, all right?”

“I’ll think about,” he said.

“Good.  Email me with your final decision first thing on Monday.  If we’re going to do this, we have to get started early.”

#

            At the heart of the campus was a circular courtyard about sixty yards in diameter.  Lining it were twelve mature magnolia trees in full-bloom.  Students walked and skateboarded from building to building on the courtyard’s intersecting walkways.  Their white faces and white hands only accentuated the bold colors of their hooded sweatshirts, long sleeve tees, and fashionable sweaters.  On a morning which felt closer to winter than it did to spring, they walked with a bit more purpose than normal so to avoid the chill in the air.  At the direct center of the courtyard was a large, round fountain.  The Augustus C. Monroe Memorial Fountain was built out of copper-tinted granite and encircled a pool of grainy teal water.  The four medium-sized spouts rising out the fountain’s floor shot water inward toward the center of the fountain, where a large statue of Monroe stood.  His left hand, raised above his head, clutched a Bible.  The other hand pointed a finger at passersby.  His frame was slightly hunched over and both knees were bent.  He had a bald head with mutton-chop sideburns and hawk-like nose.  It was tradition that every year, willing freshmen would be brought to the fountain and baptized by the campus minister under the glower of Rev. Monroe.         

The only two people sitting on the fountain’s edge that morning were Katy and her boyfriend, Chris.  Chris had the tall, strapping, and, muscular build necessary to be the basketball star that he was.  At Bolden High he led the Bulldogs to a state championship with his marvelous three-point-shooting.  His hair was a crisp, clean dirty blond which was gelled up into a fohawk.  He kept leaning over to kiss Katy’s neck.  She’d turn her head to permit a little then push him away.  She was reading a mass email Jane had sent out that morning on her BlackBerry and sucking on a grape blow-pop"part of the vegetable and candy diet she’d read about in some magazine. 

The email read:  Please attend the first and only debate between the two candidates for Monroe College’s Student Body Presidency.  Where:  Remington Hall, Room 483.  When:  April 29, 1:00PM.  Moderators:  Dr. Jane Calandor, Professor of Political Science and Dr. George Fossberg, Professor of Communications. Candidates:  Ethan W. Adler and Katie J. Clarke.”            

“Ugh, she spelled my name wrong!” Katy exclaimed as she pushed Chris away again.

            “Huh?”  Chris said.

            “In this email, she spelled it wrong!”

            “Oh, damn babe.  That sucks.  But not like it matters though.  You’re gonna win anyways.”

            “I know that.  It’s just the principle is all.  She spelled that stoner’s name perfectly, and mine is wrong!  It better not be like this on the ballot.  I’m emailing her!”

            Chris removed his hand from the small of her back and turned away.  She was in full-blown campaign mode, he could see.  Her fingers rapidly typed on the miniature keyboard a message that wasn’t exactly curt, but it was precise in conveying her disappointment.  She kept sucking on the blow-pop as the she typed.  Chris was watching her mouth and was thinking about things that would drive most warm-blooded American males crazy.  He shook his head slightly then turned away again.

            “I can’t even believe he’s running,” she said.  “Why the hell would he run against me?”

            “I don’t know, babe.  It’s definitely not his style.  That’s for sure.  He’s a good enough guy though.”

            “Please!  Him?  He’s a total loser.  He has no drive whatsoever.  He’s in my Ethnic Conflicts class.  He barely ever shows up.”

            “Yeah, but he was always friends with everyone in high school.  You know, he wasn’t like best friends with everyone, but he always managed to get along with everyone.  He just sort of fits in with people.”

            “Whatever.  He’s insignificant.”

            “Yeah, I guess.”

            “What?  You don’t think so?”

            “I’m just saying, he was friends with everyone.  Everyone always liked him.  I liked him.  Still do I guess.  I just don’t talk to him much anymore.  But he threw some great parties back in the day.”

            A tinge of concern entered into Katy’s mind.  She stopped typing for a moment and sat completely still.  Her eyes rose from the small screen and looked out across the splendidly green grass still moist from the morning dew.  Could he be a threat?  No.  He couldn’t.  She shook her head, hit send on the BlackBerry, and said:  “I’ll kick his a*s.”

           

Later that evening, Chris was at home in his bedroom watching a sleazy soft-core show on Cinemax when his phone rang.  He shifted slightly from the comfortable position on his bed and reached for it.  He answered:  “Hello.”

            “Do you have any black clothes?”  Katy asked.

            “What?” 

            “Black clothes, black clothes.  Do you have any?”

            “Uh, you mean like a suit?”

            “No, like a regular shirt and jeans, idiot.”

            “Uh, yeah, I think so.  Why?”

            “Good.  Put them on and meet me at the fountain at nine o’clock.”

            “What?  Why?”

            “Just do it.”  She hung up.

           

Chris did as he was told, and at nine o’clock he showed up at the fountain wearing a pair of black jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt.  Katy was already there waiting for him.  She too was dressed in the darkest clothing she owned, DKNY Capri pants and a black turtleneck"always stylish.  She looked behind him to make sure he wasn’t followed. 

            “It’s about time,” she said.

            “You said nine, babe,” Chris said.  “What are we doing here anyway?  Why are we dressed like this?  Is this like a sex thing?  Are we gonna pretend to be panthers in heat or something?”

            “No.  Shut up, idiot.”

            “I’m just saying it’d be cool to hear you purr.”  He gave a dopey smile.

            “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier.”

            “What’d I say?”

            “About Ethan.  About him being friends with everyone.  It might cause me some problems.  I can’t have anything get in the way of this.  I have to win.”

            “You will, babe,” he said as he put him arm around her.

            She moved away like she didn’t even notice him.  “Well, of course I will, but there can’t be any questions about it.  It has to be a landslide.  Don’t you see?  He’s an underdog.  Everyone roots for the underdog.  All it takes is a small following for him to catch on with a majority.”

            “What are you gonna do?”

            “We’re going to do it.  You and me.  We’re going to get as much information about him as possible.”

            “Information?  Like what?”

            “Opposition research, dummy.  I want to know everything about this guy:  what classes does he take, what’s his GPA, where does he work, what does he do on his days off, what’s he drink, what’s he eat, who are his friends, what do his parents do, who does he f**k"everything.”

            “How are you gonna get that sort of information?”

            “Simple; you’re going to follow him.”

            “What?  No.  I don’t feel right about that.”

            “Yes.  You’ll follow him everywhere and find out as much as you can about him.  There’s got to be something we can use against him.”

            “Uh, I think maybe you’re going a little overboard here, babe.  I mean, it’s just a stupid class election.”   

            The words were like daggers in her chest.  She spun around slowly and stared a hole directly through Chris’s corneas.  He’d stepped in it now.

            “Just a stupid election?”  Her tone sent a shiver up Chris’s spine.  She took a few steps closer until she was an inch away from him.  She looked up at the considerably much taller young man, stood on her tippy-toes, and seemed as if she could burst into flames right then and there.  “It is not just a stupid election.  This is about my future.  This is about me getting into Harvard or Yale.  This is about landing the perfect job and getting the hell out of this f*****g town!  Don’t you see?  This is about our future, Chris; yours and mine.  We can’t let some stoner weasel steal it from us!  I won’t let that happen and neither will you.” 

Her index finger pushed into his chest with such force that he nearly fell backward into the fountain’s pool.  He regained his firm-footing and looked at her.  Her soft, flowing golden hair and silky smooth skin reminded him why he was with her in the first place.

            “All right, Jesus.  I’ll do it,” he said.

            “Thanks, babe,” she said and pecked him on the lips.  “Start tonight.  Right now.  Here’s his address.  Call me later if you have anything to work with.”

 

            Five weeks had gone by of Chris following Ethan around.  He’d tailed him from school to his job at a local video store.  Then, he’d gone from the video store back to Ethan’s house.  Chris sat in his Dodge pickup for hours at time, country western music playing softly in the background, waiting to see anything unusual about Ethan.  He never did.  Day after day, night after night, Ethan repeated the same routine.  That particular Sunday was dominated by Ethan not leaving the house until well after two o’clock in the afternoon, driving to Wendy’s for a burger, and heading to work.   

Chris hesitated calling her again.  Katy was growing weary of his not finding anything of use.  But if she was growing weary, he was downright sick of it.  There were too many occasions when he felt like Ethan had recognized him.  It was getting too risky, and he had to put an end to it tonight.  He picked up his phone and called her.

            “Anything?” she said from the other end of the line.

            “Nothing again.  Sorry, babe,” he said.  He was driving down Atlas Road back toward town.  “I’m telling you, I’ve never seen someone who has less of a life than this guy.  All he does is go to school and work and back home again.  It’s kinda sad really.”

            “Oh f*****g hell, Chris.  I can’t believe you haven’t seen anything.”

            “Well what do you want me to say, babe?  I haven’t!  If you think you can do a better job then go right ahead.  ‘Cause I sure hell don’t wanna do this s**t anymore!”  He yelled back at her.

            “All right, calm down.  I’m sorry.  I’m just getting so frustrated with this whole thing.  Even his transcripts seem normal.  He’s got nothing but B’s and C’s his entire academic life.  He’s just so average.  It’s killing me.”

            “Wait.  How the hell did you have to do to get a hold of his transcripts?”

            “I just, uh, asked the guy working there nicely.”

            “Bull s**t!  What did you do?”

            “What does it matter?  What matters is that after five weeks we have jack s**t to go on!”

            “Well can’t you just use the average grades to hammer him with?  I mean, Christ babe, you get straight A’s.  Compared to him you’re Stephen-f*****g-Hawking.”

            “That isn’t enough.  Most people get average grades, dummy.  Most people are average.  That alone is enough to get him votes.”

            “Well, what about the pot?”

            “Oh please!  Like being a stoner will hurt him in a college election.  He’ll have the average student vote and the stoner vote.  That coalition alone could put me away.  No, I need something more severe.  Something that will show the student body that this guy is just too out-of-the-mainstream to be our president.”

            “Well, I give up, babe.  I can’t do this anymore.  The debate’s in five days.  If we haven’t found anything yet, we’re never going to.”

            “You can’t give up now!  What about his parents?”

            “Clean.  His dad works for the frozen food company and his stepmom’s a secretary at a medical office.”

            “Where’s his mother?”

            “Dead.  She died ten years ago.  Remember when he missed that week of school in the fourth grade?  She had cancer.”

            “S**t!  That’s right.  And he didn’t go anywhere today?”

            “Nowhere new.  He went to work.”

            A sustain period of silence lingered between the two of them.

            “Babe?”

            “Wait.”

            “What is it?”

            “You’re sure he didn’t go anyplace else today?”

            “Yeah.”

            “It’s like that every Sunday?”

            “Yeah.”

“You’re sure?”  Her voice was stern and demanding.

            “Yeah, I’m sure.  I would know wouldn’t I?  I’ve practically been attached to his hip for the past five weeks.  What does his not going anywhere on Sundays have to do with anything?”

            “Oh, I got him.  I’ve got the b*****d!”  She was enthusiastic and maybe even laughing a little.

            “Babe, I don’t get it.”

            “Oh, you will.  I’ve got him.  Yes!”

            “Well, that’s great.  I’m glad for you.  But tell me something.  What did you have to do to get his transcript?”

            There was silence at the other end of the phone.  Katy had hung up on him. 

            “Babe?”

#

            Inside Jane’s office, Ethan sat in the somewhat comfortable brown, leather-backed chair, while she sat behind her desk.  Dressed in a stylish, but wrinkled, solid blue polo shirt, he was sporadically taking notes as she spoke.  He was struck by her beauty in the light of the setting sun.  He scanned what the desk didn’t hide:  her torso, well-sized breasts, long neck, and her face.  Her skin looked so smooth but not that fake kind of smooth from the skin lotions women used on their faces.  Her skin looked naturally blemish free.  Her dark brown, shoulder length hair showed no signs of graying.  Ethan wasn’t sure if it should though.  He didn’t really know how old she was.  Even the square-framed glasses she wore worked on her somewhat rounded face.  He noticed, as she typed something on her computer, the simple gold band on her left hand. 

            “Your husband doesn’t mind you having such late hours?” he asked.

            She stopped typing and looked at him.  “My husband?  I’m not married.”

            “Oh.  I just thought, well, your ring.”

            She held her hand up in front of her and looked at the ring.  She lowered back down shyly and said:  “Oh, well, I’m separated.  Divorced really.  We ended it last year.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “Oh, please.  Don’t be.  I’m not.  He was f*****g his secretary.”

            Ethan’s eyes seemed to widen a bit at her admission. 

            “I’m sorry.  I guess I shouldn’t have said that,” she said.

            “It’s all right.”

            Music softly played in the background.  Blues.  Jonny Lang it sounded like, which Ethan was impressed by.  She was really quite pretty.  She had an air about her that intimated her intelligence but also her sadness.  It was times like these that he wished a woman as alluring as her actually did something for him.

            “Okay, so we’ve gone over most of the questions George and I will be asking you and Katy,” she said.  “The last one is asking why you want to be student body president.”  She snatched a sheet of crisp paper off of the printer and handed it to him.  “Here read this aloud.”

            “Ideas may come and go, but my ideals will endure,” he said.  “I have an ideal of fairness that I will carry with me to every meeting, with every student, every faculty member, and every administrator.  Circumstances may change, but the ideal of compassion must continue.  These ideals are not mine alone.  They are ours, every member of the Monroe College community’s.    To paraphrase President Kennedy, together we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship in order to see a successful, reputable, and prosperous Monroe College for years to come.  I want to be your president so that I can walk beside you, not out in front, and use our ideals to make this school even better than it is already.”

He looked at Jane.  She had a glowing smile of pride on that pretty face. 

“It’s good.  It’s a little lofty, don’t you think?” he said.

“Yes a little.  But you want it to be lofty.  Believe me, this goes right along with your populist appeal, Ethan.”  She reassured him.  “Trust me.  This is perfect.  Just take all the things I printed off and study them for the next three weeks.  We can’t lose.”

“We?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  You can’t lose.”

Ethan laid the paper on top of the thin stack of others she’d given him; each with a well-prepared response to every question.

“Dr. Calandor, why are you doing this?”

“What do you mean?  I told you, I think this will be good for you.”

“Yeah.  You said running for office would be good for me.  How does cheating help me?”

She stood up and moved around to where he was seated.  She placed her hand on his shoulder and said:  “Ethan, we’re not cheating.  You can’t think of it that way.  Politics is about having connections.  You just happen to have a really good one this time around.”

“I know, but Katy…”

“She’ll be fine.  Believe me.  The last person on earth who needs help doing anything is Katy Clark.”

“I guess you’re right.”

Ethan noticed her hand was still on his shoulder.  He was beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable, and he shifted in his seat.  She removed it.  He got up quickly, gathered the papers, and said:  “Well, I should be going now.  Thanks for everything, Dr. Calandor.”

“No problem, Ethan.  And please, call me Jane.”

“Uh okay, thanks, Jane.”

And with that, she opened the door for him, and he walked out of the office.

#

            Roughly fifty students and a handful of faculty were in attendance, sitting in their uncomfortable folding chairs.  They talked to each other to pass the time until the event began.  Chris was in this front row seat, specifically chosen by Katy.  He was supposed to be giving her feedback on how she looked and if her practiced hand gestures were effective enough, but he wasn’t really paying much attention to her.  At the front of the room were two free-standing podiums, and in front of those was a wooden table with two seats.  Dr. Fossberg, the octogenarian of the faculty, sat in one of the seats at the table.  He had no notes or papers in front of him.  To him, these debates weren’t worth preparing for anymore.  Next to him sat Jane.  A plain manila folder rested in front of her with the list of questions.  She was dressed in one of her usual stylish pants suits and nervously cracking the knuckle of the finger that still held a simple gold band.  Katy was at the podium to the audience’s right mouthing her rehearsed talking points.  Jane turned around to look back at the door to see if Ethan had come in yet.  She couldn’t believe he was late for this.  She turned back around and nudged Dr. Fossberg, who had dozed off.

            “What?  Has it started?” he said.

            “No.  Not yet.”  Jane replied as she looked at her watch again.  It read: 1:33.  “Come on, Ethan,” she said under her breath.

            At that moment, the door, in the back of the room, swung open recklessly and slammed into the stack of unused, folded metal chairs, causing them to tumble to the floor with a loud crash.  Ethan walked in not noticing the somewhat boisterous entrance he’d made.  Everyone immediately turned around and looked at the tall, pale young man with his tousled black hair and dressed in a Che Guevara t-shirt with a hole on its chest"obviously from the don’t-f**k-with-me-wing of the closet.  Jane quickly rose to her feet and headed in his direction.  Ethan started toward her, keeping his eyes lowered toward the ground.  Sometimes the eye drops don’t always work. 

            “Sorry.”  He spoke rather loudly.  “I went to the wrong room.”  Some in the audience laughed at this admission.

             “Oh, that’s quite all right, Ethan,” Jane said.  “You’re right on time.  Just take your place, please.” 

            Ethan walked to the front of the room and took the seat next to Fossberg, who simply nodded and gave him a welcoming smile.

            “No, no, Ethan.  You’re actually up there at that podium beside Katy.  See it?”  Jane spoke with a slight sense of panic in her voice. 

            “Oh yeah, right,” he said.

            Ethan took his place at the podium to the left of the audience, and Jane took her seat.  The audience was murmuring amongst themselves about the strange behavior of the candidate.  She then turned her attention toward the candidates.  To Katy she gave a professionalized and minimal nod.  To Ethan she gave a warm smile and nod of encouragement.  He didn’t really notice it.

            “Okay.  Welcome, everyone, to the annual debate between the candidates for the Monroe College student body presidency.  I’m Dr. Jane Calandor, a professor of political science, and next to me is Dr. George Fossberg, our distinguished professor of communications.  I’d like to take a moment to go over the rules of the debate.  Each candidate will have one minute to respond to a question given by either myself or Dr. Fossberg.  After that one minute has expired, I will ring this bell.  The other candidate will then have one minute to respond to the question.  All the questions were prepared by Dr. Fossberg and myself, and they have not been shared with the candidates before the debate.  At this time, I’d like to let everyone welcome the candidates:  Katy Clark, a junior majoring in political science.”  Jane paused to allow for the applause to end.  Katy gave a gushing smile and silly wave to the crowd.  “And Ethan Adler, a junior also majoring in political science.”  Ethan responded to his applause with a simple nod of the head and the V-shaped fingers of a peace sign.

            “Dr. Fossberg will ask the first question,” Jane said.  “And by virtue of a coin toss, the first question goes to Katy.”

            “Ms. Clark,” Fossberg said in his husky, aged voice, “much controversy has been made in recent weeks over the state legislature’s decision to permit the admittance of illegal immigrants into all state-funded colleges and universities.  Currently, the administration here at Monroe, a private institution, has been contemplating a similar approach.  Would you, as student body president, welcome a change in the current policy to allow for illegal immigrants to attend Monroe?”

            “Thank you for the question, Dr. Fossberg.  Let me start off by thanking everyone for attending this important event.  It means a lot to me.  To answer your question, Dr. Fossberg, I don’t think it’s a good idea to let criminals into our safe college community.  And they are criminals.  They came here illegally, and who’s to say that isn’t the only crime they’ve committed?  I’m all for allowing people who are here legally to attend the college, if they can afford it, but not illegal immigrants.  No, sir, we have to draw the line somewhere.  You can’t go around rewarding bad behavior, which would be exactly what Monroe’s administration would be doing if they let these Mexican and Latino folks into our college.”

            “Thank you, Ms. Clark,” Fossberg said.  “Mr. Adler, your response.”

            Ethan was leaning forward on the podium, resting his chin on his hand, with a glazed look on his face.  “Uh, well, I really don’t care one way or the other,” he said.

            The audience chuckled slightly.  Jane shifted in her seat.  Katy grinned and shook her head, pretending to jot down notes on the legal pad in front of her. 

            “I mean, it seems to me that there are already an awful lot of these Mexican and Latino folks here as Katy called them, on campus already.  I figure if it’s safe enough to let them trim the hedges, it’s safe enough to let them learn calculus.”

            Ethan felt a calming sense of pride, as half the members of the audience clapped at his response.

            “Thank you, Ethan,” Jane said nervously.  “The next question goes to you.  Recently, the student senate voted to authorize increases in student activity fees in order to pay for the construction of a new gymnasium.  Many in the student body are upset at this decision because they feel it to be an affront to their wishes, since nearly fifty-five percent of the student body voted against the fee increases in a referendum held last month.  Do you agree with the senate’s decision?  Why or why not?”

            “I don’t really go to the gym,” Ethan said. 

            “I’m sorry?”  Jane asked him.

            “I’m saying this is another one of those things I don’t really care too much about.  I don’t go to the gym here.  I don’t really workout much at all.  I have all the clothes and stuff, but I don’t really use them, except to sleep in.  So, you know, I guess maybe if they built a new gym, I’d have a reason to use the clothes, but I probably still wouldn’t.”

            “Uh, all right.  Th-thank you, Ethan,” Jane said.  “Katy?”

            “Well, let me just say that I disagree with my opponent’s decision not to be physically fit.  I think we must build our minds as much as our bodies in order to live long, successful lives.  That being said, I don’t agree with the senate’s decision.  It is an affront to the student body’s wishes, and as student body president I would do everything in my power to make sure those fees are brought back down to a reasonable level.”

            The back-and-forth went on for about twenty minutes more.  Neither candidate seemed to gain an upper-hand since the audience applauded for both equally.  Fossberg squirmed anxiously in his seat, and he was growing more tired.  Jane was frantically trying to get Ethan to focus.  He had barely been paying attention to what was going on around him.  She asked him follow-ups to the questions he didn’t seem to understand or want to answer.  Her patience was wearing thin.  Katy stayed focused like a laser on the talking points.  She knew however that she was going to have to bring out the secret weapon.  Maybe if the audience"that stupid audience"hadn’t applauded Ethan’s nonsensical answers so much, she wouldn’t have to do it.  But no, she had to.  She just needed the opportune moment.

            “This will be the final question,” Jane said, “before closing arguments.  I hope it’s an easy one, but one never can tell.  Here it is:  Why do you want to be student body president.”

            This was it.  This was the last chance for Ethan to salvage what, up to that point, Jane thought was a total disaster.  They went over every question together for two weeks straight.  She showed him all the questions and told him exactly what his answers should be.  She just couldn’t believe he was blowing it like this and letting that sycophant win.  Maybe he’d need some extra time to think about the answer to this one.  She thought she’d better handicap the match even more.

            “Katy you go first,” Jane said.

            “Uh, no, I think it’s his turn to go first,” Katy said with a bit of bewilderment.

            “No.  It’s your turn, Katy.  Go ahead please.”

            “No, I really think that it’s his turn to go first.”  Katy was almost pouting now.  “Dr. Fossberg, aren’t I right?  Isn’t it his turn?”

            Fossberg pulled himself up out of his slouch, looked at Jane, looked back to Katy and said: “Young lady, I have no earthly idea.  Just answer the question now, please.  I have an appointment with my podiatrist at three o’clock.”

            Katy stared incredulously for a moment and shook head.  She couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, but she wasn’t going to fight it.  This was better, maybe.  She’d get to give her closing statement last.

            “I want to be student body president because I believe I have the abilities necessary to lead our school.  My past experience as student body president at Bolden High"go Bulldogs"has taught me a lot, and I will use that knowledge gained to make Monroe a better place for the students and the faculty.  I want to make sure that the voices of the students are heard loud and clear up there at the administration building.  You know, this is a great college, filled with wonderful people, and I would be just honored to have their blessings and lead them for the next year.”

            Jane sighed.  “Thank you, Katy.  Ethan?”

            “Yeah?” he said.

            “Your response?”

            “Oh, what was the question?”

            Jane wanted to scream.  “Why do you want to be student body president?”

            Ethan nodded and leaned back with both hands fixed firmly on the sides of the podium.  He looked out at the audience and then up to the ceiling.  He brought his boyish face back down and said:  “I don’t.”

            The crowd laughed uproariously.  Jane sat with a look of shock on her face.  Fossberg joined the crowd in laughing and said:  “Well, that’s an answer.”

            Katy was just as shocked as Jane, and she didn’t see the humor in Ethan’s answer.  She couldn’t believe she was forced to debate this farce of a candidate.  Yet something in her still said that he was winning them over.  This was it.  It was time.

“Excuse me, Dr. Calandor, Dr. Fossberg, I have something I need to say,” Katy said.  “Now, I don’t want to get personal here.  But I don’t think we’ve gotten the whole story about my opponent.”

“What are you talking about, Katy?” Jane said.

“I’m saying there are things about him we don’t know.  Bad things.”

“Look, Katy,” Jane said.

“Well,” Katy interrupted, “it just seems to me that someone who doesn’t believe in God should be the last person we ask to be the voice of the student body.  This is a Christian school.  It was founded by a great moral leader, the Reverend Augustus Monroe.  We shouldn’t tarnish his legacy by electing an atheist to hold office at this school.”

People in the audience started to shift and murmur at the accusation. 

“I myself attend church every Sunday, just like most of the people in this school,” Katy said.  “I’d like to why my opponent thinks a video store is the place he needs to be on Sundays.  I’d like to know why it is that he doesn’t hold a special place in his heart for Jesus.  Is it so much to ask that our student body president be representative of the student body?”

            “Uh, Katy, I think it might be wise if we stay focused on the issues pertaining to the college.”  Jane was trying to save him.  “Someone’s religious beliefs are not relevant to this election.”

            “Oh, but they are, Dr. Calandor.  Dr. Fossberg, ladies and gentlemen, I’m not questioning my opponent’s right to believe whatever he wants.  I personally don’t care one way or another.  All I am saying is that it seems unlikely that someone so out of the mainstream of Monroe’s student body would be the best person to make decisions for said body.  Jesus Christ died for my sins, and that’s all I need to know.  I think we all deserve to know why my opponent chooses to not practice a religion that teaches humility and peace and charity for all!”

            Ethan was paying attention now.  He wiped the hair from his forehead with a flick of his wrist, and then turned to Katy.  She was facing him with an arrogant gaze.  He could hear the murmurs in the crowd and read the looks on their faces.  They were looks of pity and disgust.  Ethan’s whole body ran cold, and he wanted to shrink to the size of thimble. 

            “Well, uh, what was the question again?”  He said.

            “I asked why we should entrust such decision-making authority in the hands of someone who doesn’t even believe in Christ!”  Katy said.

            “Well, uh, actually…I’m Jewish.”

            There was silence in the room for a brief moment.  It was broken when someone in the audience let out a raucous laugh. 

            “That would explain it, huh Katy?”  Someone from the audience shouted.

            Everyone was laughing now.  Ethan couldn’t tell if they were laughing at him or her, but at this point he didn’t care.  He just wanted the whole ordeal over with.  The sweat was running down the small of his back now, and he was beginning to get dizzy.

            “All right, I think that explains it, Katy.”  Jane was furious, but she swallowed her contempt one last time.  “I think we should move on to closing arguments.  Katy, go first.”

            “But I just went…” Katy tried to speak but Jane cut her off.

            “Just go!”

“Okay, well, this is such an honor for me.  And I appreciate, too, getting to have an opponent on stage with me.  It made me a better candidate.  I also loved getting to debate with him.  And I would like more opportunity for this.  I like being able to answer these tough questions without a filter.  I'd rather be able to just speak to the students like we just did.

And it's so important that the students know the choices that they’ll have on Election Day.  I’m going to work hard for all of us, and I say us, because we’re in this together.  This is our school, and we must cherish it always and pass it along to the next generation of young people.  We have an obligation to them, with guidance from up above, to make our school a better place.  If you elect me, I’ll be sure that happens.  God bless you, all.  Thank you.”

            A milder applause than she would have liked, but Katy felt like she’d done enough to win.  It was a prizefight, like she knew it would be, but she would come out on top. 

            “Thank you, Katy,” Jane said.  “Ethan, your closing statement?”

            The apprehension and discomfort, which was shrouded in a fog of marijuana intoxication, had given way to a festering rage inside of Ethan.  He hated them all.  He hated Katy for what she had tried to do to him.  He hated the audience for sitting there and listening to this bull s**t.  And most of all, he hated Jane for making him do this in the first place.  He wanted nothing more than to set the place on fire.  He wanted to be left alone.  Why couldn’t she have left him alone?  Now, look at him standing up there, all eyes upon him.  It was torture and he hated them all for it.

“What a f*****g joke this all is.  Do you think any of this matters?”  Ethan waved his hands around him wildly.  “It’s all a charade.  It’s just another way for someone like her,” he said pointing at Katy, “to get ahead of everyone else in life.  It’s a way for people like her to continue to feel better than everyone else.  And all of you go along with it.  You sit there and listen to her bull s**t and accept it all.  It’s pathetic.  You’re all pathetic.  It’s like you don’t even know how to think for yourselves. You might as well all be lobotomized if you believe any of the s**t that was said up here today.  And by the way, Katy, I don’t think someone who gave six guys at the Alpha Upsilon party blowjobs to get into her sorority should be lecturing anyone on morality.”  The crowd roared with laughter.  Chris’s face turned red, as he clenched his teeth and shot Katy a cold glare.  Ethan paused for a moment and took a breath.  “You’re all a bunch of shadows, and you speak to each other in echoes.”  Ethan raised his hands above his head, in a Richard Nixon like pose, and waved his two extended middle fingers at the audience and walked out of the room.  Jane didn’t even see him walk past her because she had long-since covered her face in embarrassment.

#

Early in the morning, Jane was sitting at her office desk staring at her illuminated computer screen.  She thought about how futile it all was.  Why did she even bother at all?  This was no country for a thirty-eight year old divorcee.  The young people around her everyday wanted to be with other young people, not her.  No matter how many times she fantasized in her mind about their shared nights of passion and intellectual conversations, she couldn’t help but remember that an aging woman is a paltry thing in the eyes of a twenty-year old man.  He was just too impenetrable.  And Katy, girls like that, they always win, even when the numbers say otherwise.  God, she wanted to sail away"someplace far away.  And she still wanted him, even though he was gone now.  He had withdrawn from school the day after the debate, leaving no word with her or anyone.  She thought about calling his home number, still listed in the school directory, but she didn’t.  She just stared blankly at the screen and wondered if he’d ever hear about the results of the election and would it have made any difference at all?  On the screen, the email from Fossberg read:  Jane, Here are the preliminary results from student body president election:  Adler 904 (64%); Clark 508 (36%).  It’s a landslide.      

© 2011 M Baker


Author's Note

M Baker
All Rights Reserved 2011 © M.G. Baker


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This was nicely done, you captured the 3 main sides of it very well. The strong stereotypes shone through. We all know people like them and the various cliques within our institutions. It had a good flow and build up about it, with pacing to carry it on down. It's something people can identify with as they're positions held all around society.

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Added on March 11, 2011
Last Updated on April 5, 2011
Tags: College, politics, drugs, humor

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M Baker
M Baker

Raleigh, NC



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Just a run-of-the-mill malcontent and aspiring writer. Those really are one in the same, I suppose. I have hopes of one day completing a full-length novel. For now I am working on expanding several.. more..

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